Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
I don’t know how else to say it other than to say that the lineup for Desert Generator 2017 is fucking sick. The Pioneertown, CA-based fest made its debut last year with none other than Brant Bjork at the organizational helm, and the return installment builds on the first one unquestionably, importing Italian heavy psych forerunners Black Rainbows to play the fest proper at Pappy & Harriet’s and partnering with esteemed Euro booker Sound of Liberation on a pre-party the night before out in the desert with Yawning Man, Fu Manchu and Brant Bjork doing a set with Sean Wheeler. Like I said, it’s fucking sick.
Really, the only two words you’d need to sell the thing are “Earthless headline,” but the that’s just the start of what’s going on here. Orchid and The Shrine will be an absolute party, and the vibe Desert Generator 2017 is shooting for is so apparent I can feel it even from being situated on the other side of the continent. I wish to hell I could be there for this one, because it looks like it’s going to be something special.
Check it out:
DESERT GENERATOR 2017
A heavy, psychedelic, rock & roll happening.
Rolling Heavy Magazine; Allnight, Allnight; and Brant Bjork present:
DESERT GENERATOR and THE ROLLING HEAVY VAN SHOW Saturday, April 8th, 2017 Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Saloon, The Pioneertown Corrals
Custom vans, killer bands, hanging and camping out all weekend with new and old buddies, cheersing and generally getting rad in the Southern California desert. Concert Tickets are on sale. If you were there in 2016, you know you gotta be there. If you missed it, well, you know you can’t make that mistake again. We are so stoked about this band lineup!
EARTHLESS BRANT BJORK ORCHID THE SHRINE BLACK RAINBOWS
— Yeah, buddy, that’s right. Let that soak in for a minute, then read on…
!!! SOMETHING EXTRA RAD AND NEW FOR 2017 !!!
>>> \\\\ * STONED & DUSTED * //// <<< Presented by Sound of Liberation Friday April 7th, 2017
A concert that can happen only with these desert rock legends and only in this desert. We’re throwing a generator party in the middle of nowhere and you’re invited. The location sits on nearly 700 acres of undisturbed desert. No telephone poles, no roads, no people, nothing but rocks and rockers, stones and stoners.
Mario Lalli is bringing the gas-powered electricity and his band Yawning Man are bringing the loudest amps they can find. Brant Bjork is swooping up the Low Desert Punks in his badass Dodge Challenger and special guest Sean Wheeler is riding in on the hood. Fu Manchu finally found the party they were in search of this whole time! And you can find it too if you have a ticket. Meet the bands, break bread, and see them rock out in this super secret desert location.
FU MANCHU BRANT BJORK w/ SPECIAL GUEST SEAN WHEELER YAWNING MAN
* Hang with the bands before the show * Enjoy Hot Tacos & Cold Drinks * VERY LIMITED number of tickets * Super rad desert location * Loud as fuck
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Heavy Psych Sounds enters the Spring festival game with Sonic Ritual Fest 2017. The announcement of the new fest comes only days after a Heavy Psych Sounds night was also confirmed for Desertfest Berlin 2017 (info here), and as Sonic Ritual will take place over the course of two nights in three different cities in two different countries, it’s nothing if not an ambitious rollout. That’s before you get to the lineup, which spans Europe and both coasts of the US in its scope, importing acts like desert rock legends Yawning Man and Philly cosmic rockers Ecstatic Vision to play alongside Scotland’s The Cosmic Dead and Italian spaceheads Giöbia.
Sonic Ritual Fest 2017 is intended as a springtime companion to the fall’s Heavy Psych Sounds Fest, so we’ll have to see over time how the two develop, but the idea off the bat of a multi-city approach over subsequent nights, with two different packages that then converge for one huge blowout is a pretty cool way to start. Heavy Psych Sounds still has two more bands to add to the Athens show for May 19, so I’ll be keeping an eye open to see who makes the cut. Perhaps a native Greek act or two would fit the profile? Could be just about anybody, I suppose. There doesn’t seem to be much that’s out of HPS‘ reach these days.
Info and ticket preorder links follow:
Sonic Ritual Fest 2017
HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS Records & Booking Is really happy to unveil the line ups for the SONIC RITUAL FEST
May 19 IT Ravenna-Bronson: GIOBIA THE COSMIC DEAD ECSTATIC VISION ISTVAN
May 19 GR Athens-An Club: YAWNING MAN DUEL +2 more bands to be announced!
May 20 IT Bloom-Mezzago: YAWNING MAN GIOBIA THE COSMIC DEAD DUEL ECSTATIC VISION DOCTOR CYCLOPS ANANDA MIDA THE CLAMPS
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Desert rock trio Avon made their debut early in 2016 with Mad Marco, a full-length collection distinct in its still-inimitable Californian style. The band is distinguished by its lineup, which features drummer Alfredo Hernandez, of Yawning Man, Kyuss, Che, and Queens of the Stone Age fame, as well as Charles Pasarell of Waxy and James Childs of Vic du Monte’s Persona non Grata and Airbus. As such, it’s little surprise ultimately they’d have their head screwed on right when it comes to knowing what they want to sound like, and as tracks like “Yvone the Avon Lady” and “Bloodlike Rain” — both of which you can sample below as part of the full-album stream — demonstrate, they’ve got a sphere that extends beyond sandy origins to a wider psychedelia.
I’ll admit the album got by me last year when it was issued by Spira Records — trying to run down a CD copy as we speak, actually — but the three-piece have a new single coming in April on respected German purveyor H42 Records and that’s well worth looking forward to.
A quick announcement came down the PR wire:
New 7″ from AVON released in April 17
We from H42 Records are so Happy to announce to release Avon’s new 7″ in April.
Avon is: Alfredo Hernández (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Yawning Man) James Childs (Airbus, Little Villains) Charles Pasarell (WAXY)
AVON play heavy rock and are from California USA. The music is psychedelic, raw, melodic and has something to say. Their musical bond comes from years of playing in their respective bands often together in California’s desert cities, Los Angeles and on many European tours. Each member brings with them influence and experience to form a unique and driven sound. So if you like heavy desert rock, then you have come to the right place. After their 2016 debut ‘Mad Marco’ they will be back with new tunes soon.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
The final addition to the lineup for Up in Smoke 2016, which starts this Friday at Z7 in Pratteln, Switzerland? Camping space. Namely the floor of the venue, which will be cleaned after the last band finishes each night so that fest goers can grab their sleeping bags and bed down for the night, only to find breakfast waiting when they roll back to consciousness the next morning. I’ve never slept on a venue floor before. That would be a new one. But provided they get the beer/other fluids up, which I’ve no doubt they’ll be able to do because it’s Switzerland and things like that increase the likelihood that anyone gives a shit about what they’re doing, it seems like a cool way to achieve total immersion in a festival atmosphere. I’ve never gone camping either, though, so don’t necessarily take my word as an expert or anything.
With the festival’s most massive lineup yet, Up in Smoke 2016 kicks off this Friday. A new trailer for the fest with some 1000mods in it has been posted and you can find that under the camping info and complete billing below:
SOUND OF LIBERATION and Z7 KONZERTFABRIK PRATTELN proudly present the 4th edition of UP IN SMOKE INDOOR FESTIVAL on September 30th and October 1st 2016! Musical Highlights include Electric Wizard, Yob, Truckfighters, Pentagram and many many more.
Many of you asked for the chance to sleep over in the venue, like we offered in the last editions. Here´s the procedure:
After the last band is done playing, we will go on partying with Dj music for another hour. Then afterwards, we will ask everybody to step out of the main hall for a few minutes. The floor will be cleaned and covered with a sheet so that the place gets clean for all our “in site – campers”. If you want to sleep over in the venue, you should bring your sleeping bag and camping mat. Upon your arrival on the festival site you can store your belongings in the wardrobe and get it back for the night.
In the morning, we will offer you a nice breakfast with coffee/tea, bread and breadrolls, meat and cheese and sweet stuff to get you in shape for the next festival day! The price for sleep over and breakfast is 15.- CHF per person/night. There´s no option of separate bookings like ” only sleep over and no breakfast” or “only breakfast”.
Up in Smoke 2016 Final Line Up Electric Wizard Pentagram Truckfighters YOB Elder Greenleaf Monkey 3 Cough Black Cobra 1000mods Yawning Man Fatso Jetson Dyse Wucan Desert Mountain Tribe Giobia High Fighter Mother’s Cake Ephedra
Also not to forget: No overlapping set times, sleep over/breakfast possibiity in the venue + some more specials to be announced soon to sweeten you the “TWO NOT TO BE MISSED DAYS OF VOLUME WORSHIP” !!! Grab your ticket (2-day passes) right now on our website, on www.z-7.ch and on our Facebook (tab ‘Buy Tickets’). If you prefer to buy an original, real hard-ticket, our partner Woolheads is selling them!
Posted in Reviews on September 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
The story goes that one night on Yawning Man‘s 2015 South American tour, the instrumental desert rock pioneers stopped into ION Studios in Buenos Aires. With just a single night in that hallowed space, which has played host to many great Argentinian acts and offerings, they put to tape the tracks that would become the Historical Graffiti LP — and it is LP/DL only, released on Lay Bare Recordings — their first full-length outing since 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits (review here).
Of course, in that six-year stretch, Yawning Man have hardly been inactive, shifting their lineup around founding guitarist Gary Arce and bassist/guitarist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson), releasing the Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split LP in 2013, and touring, Arce also stepping out of the band’s confines to participate in numerous collaborations, side-projects, guest appearances and so on. That spirit of being able to go anywhere and still bring something distinct is writ large all over the unassuming five tracks/33 minutes of Historical Graffiti, which is further set apart from its predecessor and in fact the whole of Yawning Man‘s catalog for its guest contributions.
Joining Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are keyboardist/Mellotronist Malene Pedersen (also of Lewd Flesh), as well as violinist Sara Ryan and accordionist Adolofo Trepiana, whose contributions to opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Wind Cries Edalyn” and the closing title-track aren’t to be understated in providing a grounding but still gentle and melodic presence alongside the band’s otherwise dreamy tonality, which seems set for maximum drift across the album’s span.
Not a complaint, obviously. Yawning Man shine best when they shine like a hot sun — see also: any number of other desert-minded descriptors of Arce‘s shimmering, sentimental guitar tone — and for those who’ve spent years anticipating an announced full-length called Gravity is Good for You that remains elusive, it seems fair enough to take whatever comes at this point as regards output from Yawning Man proper. The sweet, lush immersion of Historical Graffiti, which bears the subtitle The ION Studios Session, Buenos Aires, Argentina on its front cover, makes it all the easier for the taking.
Yawning Man are known for their jamming, and a lot of the basis of their influence, particularly on European post-desert heavy psych, has been in that ethic of improvisation, but the depth of arrangement throughout, beginning with the layering of guitar and violin early on “The Wind Cries Edalyn,” speaks to some plan. I don’t know whether Ryan came in afterwards and dubbed strings over the basic tracks of guitar, bass, drums and keys, or what, but even as it runs deeper and introduces Trepiana‘s accordion, there’s a sense of a plan at work.
That’s not to say the song’s foundation isn’t still a jam — it most likely is — just that the jam has been fleshed out in exciting ways that one might not necessarily expect from a Yawning Man release. That becomes the running theme as Historical Graffiti dips and dives, making its way through a tracklisting that offers its shortest cut in centerpiece “Naomi Crayola” (3:06) after “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” (6:58), then works its way through consecutively longer songs again, “The Secret Language of Elephants” (6:28) and “Historical Graffiti” (7:49), to end out, all the while sounding fluid to a point of hypnosis, geared toward conveying the decades-in-the-making chemistry between Lalli and Arce as the foundation from which moments like the otherworldly soundscape of “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” flow outward, gorgeous and consuming.
Elements come and go throughout. That is, the violin and the accordion aren’t on every song. Pedersen‘s keys are fairly consistent, but it’s Stinson‘s drums that make the primary impression on “Naomi Crayola,” pushing the quicker track with an initial straightforward beat that departs somewhat from the languid “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” and “The Wind Cries Edalyn” before it.
The centerpiece shifts momentarily into a noise freakout once or twice but soon enough returns each time to its linear movement, fading out to the more subdued “The Secret Language of Elephants,” which seems to return Historical Graffiti to its arc, accordion and all, though there’s some more weighted thrust there as well that comes and goes — chorus-like, though I’d be hesitant in most cases to try and lay a structural expectation on anything Yawning Man do.
Still, it’s a memorable impression to start side B of the vinyl, Ryan‘s violin standing out in the song’s second half, and “Historical Graffiti” itself continues to make the most of this flourish while highlighting the perpetually underrated guitar tone of Arce, captured immaculately at ION with a full sound backed by the bass, keys, drums, violin and accordion that for those who’ve had experience with Yawning Man and those who haven’t should serve as a vibrant refresher of/introduction to what has always been at the core of the band.
Their lineup has continued to shift since Historical Graffitiwas recorded, bringing in bassist Justine Summer Heaven and moving Lalli onto second guitar to work as a four-piece, but that core of who they are and what they do has remained constant despite whatever changes surround, and simply put, there’s no band on the planet who has done more to define the scope of desert rock than Yawning Man.
Historical Graffiti may be the result of stopping by a studio for a night in another country on an ongoing tour, laying down some tracks and moving on, but the scope it offers would’ve taken other groups months to conjure if they could at all, and in the end, it’s way less of a one-off and way more of a gift. It should be treasured accordingly.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan
So uh, hey, there’s a new Yawning Man LP. It’s called Historical Graffiti and it’s out now vinyl-only through Lay Bare Recordings. The legendary desert rockers have stated their intentions toward a new record publicly in a variety of forms and with a variety of lineups, but Historical Graffiti is their first full-length outing since 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits, and its arrival coincides with the band’s upcoming European tour, set to kickoff on Sept. 1 with stops at Reverence Festival and Up in Smoke 2016, among others. The record comes as something of a surprise, as there wasn’t much lead-up –preorders, pre-release hype, etc. — at least that I encountered, but it seems to be out there now and available for purchase, so fucking a. Get on it while you can.
Band announcement, info from Burning World Records and tour dates follow:
Yawning Man is proud to announce the release of our new album “HISTORICAL GRAFFITI” on Lay Bare Recordings!!!
Thank you to all our supporters that contributed to help us make this happen.
This unique and influential band from the Southern California desert has left their mark on bands such as Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, making them one of the defining forces in the desert rock scene for over 20 years both in the U.S. and in Europe. Pinning Yawning Man to a specific genre is difficult, letting the music speaks for itself has fans from all over the rock, indie, psych and alternative spectrum are discovering the passion and dark beauty in Yawning Man’s music.
Throughout the instrumental cinematic rock landscapes of Yawning Man, the post-Ventures, haunting melodies & composition of guitarist Gary Arce are constantly being stretched, up-ended and sent deep into dark Joy Division territory, by the weird chords and heavy bass grooves of Mario Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson. The result is the kind of brooding and thunderous atmosphere that draws you constantly inward.
In this very special recording session done during the bands 2015 South American tour while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The band was invited to record for one evening at the world famous and legendary ION Studios.The session featured guest appearances by Argentinian tango musicians Sara Ryan on violin and Adolfo Trepiana on bandoneon accordion as well as Malene Arce (wife of Gary Arce) on the Mellotron.
An Argentinian newspaper once wrote that the “condensed history of the nations music“ was to be found behind Ion’s doors, and they were spot-on with this description. Some of the country’s brightest musical legends, such as Astor Piazzolla, have reacted like ions with other musicians, and the energy that was released during this process condensed in the form of numerous classic records.
As the largest and most legendary sound studio in Buenos Aires, Ion remains one of the most remarkable recording venues in the world. It’s energy is evident in the spontaneous edgy beauty created by the band in this collaboration of special artists in a very special place.
YAWNING MAN Live: 01.09.2016 London Borderline UK 02.09.2016 Sint Niklaas Villa Pace Festival BEL 03.09.2016 Rotterdam Baroeg NL 04.09.2016 Karlsruhe Alte Hackerei D 06.09.2016 San Sebastian Dabadaba SP 07.09.2016 Zaragoza La Ley Seca SP 08.09.2016 Gijon Casino Acapulco SP 09.09.2016 Valada Reverence Festival POR 10.09.2016 Madrid Taboo SP 11.09.2016 Barcelona Rocksound SP 13.09.2016 Torino Cafe Liber ITA 14.09.2016 Milano Lo Fi ITA 15.09.2016 Munich Feierwerk D 16.09.2016 Berlin Swampfest D 17.09.2016 Gdansk B 90 Club POL 18.09.2016 Warsaw Chmury POL 19.09.2016 Dresden Ost-Pol D 20.09.2016 Prague Klubovna CZR 21.09.2016 Budapest Duerer Kert HUN 22.09.2016 Vienna Arena A 24.09.2016 Siegen Vortex D 26.09.2016 Wiesbaden Schlachthof D 27.09.2016 Zuerich Rote Fabrik CH 28.09.2016 Innsbruck PMK A 01.10.2016 Pratteln Up In Smoke Festival SWI
Another night on the Southwestern front. What portion of the day I hadn’t spent writing, I spent huddled up in a tired mass, the hotel curtain drawn to keep out a punishingly hot desert sun. My excuse was I was saving energy for the show, but I think really I might’ve just been afraid of melting in unfamiliar terrain. Before I rolled back into 191 Toole for the second night of Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016, I walked through a little bit of downtown Tucson — or what seemed to be downtown Tucson, anyhow — and grabbed a cup of coffee and an iced tea.
People outside, in shorts, enjoying the weather and each other’s company. Sitting outside of restaurants and markets, speaking English, Spanish, some mixture of the two. Awesome. Families with babies, couples, singles, loners, and me and my coffee lumbering back toward 6th St. Doors were 6:30, first band 7PM. I found fest organizers Joey and Wayne Rudell of Fuzz Evil near the back of the venue in a conversational round with much the same group as yesterday as bands were making their way in. Immediately it was more crowded than night one had been, and only became more so as bands swapped back and forth between the floor and the main stage.
That process was smoother than it had been on the first night of the fest, somewhat expectedly, but I think a big part of that was that everyone showed up. No food poisoning. So it was easier to get a sense of what Wayne and Joey — both sociable, friendly, gracious guys, but with different enough personalities that one imagines they could’ve had some real knock-down-drag-outs as kids — were going for in structuring the lineup, moving from the desert to crunchier fare and finally out among spaces so vast that they might as well be space itself. We’ll get there.
Once again, the show featured the fantastic talents of Lance Gordon and Mad Alchemy. Things seen and heard:
Sounds Like Murder
Each night of Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 featured two bands from Arizona. Phoenix trio Sounds Like Murder lead off the second night of the fest with gritty metallic push. Sounds more like riffs than murder, but they got their point across. Vocalist/bassist Dirty had the low-garble vocal thing going, and he wouldn’t be the last of the night, and could barely be understood talking between songs — in my head I heard David Huddleston call it “authentic frontier gibberish” — but while much of their output came from the post-Down school of dudely chug, they had some funk in their opener that showed there was more going on under the surface. That may have come via Clutch, it was hard to tell from the stage, but either way, the place was more crowded early and the Southern style Sounds Like Murder proffered effectively foreshadowed Switchblade Jesus‘ set later on and Dirty, guitarist Irish Mike and drummer Opie had a strong idea of what they were going for, even going so far as to add some throat singing at the end of “1340,” which was a genuine surprise.
A quick swap in vibe brought up Dandy Brown, guitarist for Hermano, playing with a solo band. A double-guitar four-piece who would share bassist Damien Lautiero with Waxy later on, they ran through a set of fluid desert rock, brought a crowd with them, and emphasized quality songcraft from the very start in swaps between restraint and letting go. Brown himself seemed right at home in classic structures, familiar but not necessarily derivative, and his and the other guitar meshed fluidly throughout the songs, also adding backup vocals on “The Sleeper.” While they were still playing, I wondered if they had records for sale — even better, turned out they had CDs for free; I grabbed two — and though they didn’t have time to get to their planned cover of Floyd‘s “Astronomy Domine,” that spirit came through nonetheless. In front of the stage, kids played while wearing earmuffs, giving the set even more of a wholesome feel as Brown worked in his John Garcia-style croon and the righteously laid back feel of “Santa Fe Trail” before new song “This World” finished out. Hermano reportedly have new stuff in the works, following up on 2007’s underrated Into the Exam Room, but whenever/whether it comes to fruition, that spirit was served and represented well at Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016.
Denver trio Cloud Catcher damn near ran away with this entire festival. I mean it. I dug the hell out of their debut album, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here and here), and was thrilled to find that the live delivery was no less vigorous. Guitarist/vocalist Rory Rummings, bassist Kam Wenworth and drummer Jared Handman were only on the second night of an 11-show tour, but they were air tight through upbeat twists and tempo changes, dead on grooves culled from ’70s giants transposed onto thick tones and shredding leads, propulsive crash and rumble. When they’re done with this tour, they’ll record a new album — exactly the right time to do it — which they should send everywhere, because frankly I can’t imagine some label wouldn’t want to pick them up based on what I heard. They posted a demo for “Celestial Empress” last month, and that song was aired along with “Visions” and others from the forthcoming release. Watching the crowd have its ass handed to it, I couldn’t help but hope they expand their geographic reach for the sophomore LP, because while Cloud Catcher had the West Coast heavy thing down, set-finale “Righteous Ruin” shifted from its twists and turns into a big, bluesy slowdown that showed they’re bringing even more of themselves to the table. Hands were up for high fives before they even finished playing the song, and rightly so.
By the time Waxy — the Palm Desert-dwelling trio of guitarist/vocalist Robbie Owen. Damien Lautiero and drummer Jeff Bowman (Unsound) — took the stage, the momentum of the night was set. Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 was moving quickly, but smoothly, and Waxy would follow-up on the desert stylizations of Dandy Brown with more solidly constructed desert rock, delving into an earlier Queens of the Stone Age vibe, which of course is nothing to complain about. Their latest album, Without Any Explanation Why (get it? W-A-X-Y?), was released in 2014, and “Motorcade” from it (also from their 2007 debut, Chainsaw Holiday) was a highlight, richly toned and catchy in a Kyuss-style mid-paced push. Laid back until they weren’t, they effectively switched up moods while keeping a steady flow throughout, Lautiero backing Owen effectively despite being a little low in the mix at first. That got worked out as they went on toward “Disaster” from their 2011 self-titled second record, which of course was anything but, as they provided a last look at the desert before the evening dipped into harder-edged fare. I don’t know if they’re planning a new release, but they were an easy sell for the crowd, myself included.
Back on the floor stage, Oakland aggro punk-metallers Blackwülf boasted both the weekend’s only umlaut and the weekend’s only standalone frontman (apart from Sean Wheeler guesting in Fatso Jetson) in Alex Cunningham, and even he had a tambourine and some maracas on-hand. They made their Ripple Music debut late last year with Oblivion Cycle (review here), their second offering overall, from which the hook of “Never Forget” stood out thanks in no small part to its fist-pumping riff. Guitarist Pete Holmes, bassist Scott Peterson and drummer Dave Pankenier fostered a tense vibe under Cunningham‘s shouts, sneers and singing, but wanted nothing for tonal heft either in “Faith Healer” or “Acid Reign,” the creeping guitar progression of which felt less “South of Heaven” live than on record. Their set seemed to end abruptly. Not sure if they got cut off for time or were just done quick — seemed like some acts played it looser than others when it came to how much time they spent on stage, as will happen — but it felt short, which I took as an encouraging sign either way. Everything they played came from Oblivion Cycle, and in addition to the accent in their name and the lack of a guitar or bass in Cunningham‘s hands, they were also distinguished by being clearly the angriest band of the fest. They won the title outright, and then, presumably, stomped on it because they were so pissed off.
Blackwülf may have been the angriest band of the two nights, but Switchblade Jesus I think were the loudest. I didn’t have a dB meter to confirm that or anything, but god damn, the Corpus Christi, Texas-based four-piece were loud. Most notably in Jason Beers‘ bass. The punch of his Gibson Thunderbird came through the 191 Toole room mix in full assault, and the effect was that the dual guitars of Billy Guerra (who played on the dark side of the stage) and Eric Calvert (also vocals) sounded viscous as they conjured dudely chug, nasty and grooving. Burl. All the burl. Songs about whiskey. Drummer Jon Elizondo, encased in shadow behind Calvert, served as the foundation on which all of it was laid, and to go along with “The Wolves” and “Sick Mouth” from their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), which was subsequently reissued via both Kozmik Artifactz and Ripple Music in 2014 and 2015, they had a host of new material in “Snakes,” “Bastard,” the plus-sized nod of “Wet Lungs” and closer “Mountain” to show where they’re at now. Their cap was preceded by Calvert asking the crowd “You want it heavy or what?” The answer was clear as they brought it for “Mountain,” its rolling chorus sure to catch attention when their next record shows up.
Before Fuzz Evil started their set proper, brothers Wayne Rudell and Joey Rudell — also the showrunners for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta — took a couple minutes for a guitar and bass jam. Drummer Marlin Tuttle seemed to have loaned some drum hardware to Switchblade Jesus, so the changeover wasn’t as immediate, and while they may have just been filling time noodling, that jam came to inform everything they played thereafter, resulting in a much more psychedelic set than I expected from either their 2015 single “Born of Iron” (streamed here) or prior 2014 split with Chiefs, both of which were more straightforward. That surprise made it for me. It was a thrill to see Joey, his machine-gun bass held aloft, and Wayne, his guitar coated in tone worthy of the band’s name, work side by side to carry across a set of mostly new material. As to when they might get around to a full-length debut, they weren’t forthcoming, but I’ll hope they capture some of that impromptu spirit, because as it blended with their established penchant for fuzzy hooks and driving, straightforward songs — see the swinging “Glitterbones” — it made their time on stage that much richer to experience. They moved the progression of the evening away from the burl of Switchblade Jesus and provided a transition into Yawning Man still to come, but more than that, they gave the assembled crowd, which included Dead Meadow, who showed up to watch, a set worthy of headliners while at the same time not being afraid to smile onstage and actively have a good time. Mirroring their start, they ended with an effects-drenched jam, Wayne twisting pedal knobs while Joey and Marlin held the flow together, so that in addition to having put on a killer show, Fuzz Evil put on a killer show. Go figure.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Yawning Man before (review here), so in a conceptual sense I knew what was coming, but until I stood there and had the bliss of tone provided by the guitars of Gary Arce and special guests Mario Lalli and Dino von Lalli (both Fatso Jetson) oozing forth from the stage, I don’t think I really had any idea. All three were recognizable, clear in the mix — which, taken with the keys of Malene Arce (also LewdFlesh), the bass of Justine Summer Heaven and Bill Stinson‘s cymbal wash, felt like a friggin’ miracle — and each added something different, Dino holding down rhythms, Mario tearing into leads and Gary finger-plucking strings to emit serenity through his years-in-the-making tone, as signature to the desert as sand and dry air. Long a power trio, as a six-piece, Yawning Man bordered on orchestral, and while parts were definitely recognizable, a good portion of their time was spent moving into, through and back out of open jamming, keys adding to the airy feel and Stinson and Heaven and sometimes Dino marking out a rhythmic terrain and holding firm while Arce and Mario traded adventurous leads. It was glorious. Liquid enough that you wanted to swim in it, warm enough that you wanted to get a sunburn, and raw and creatively vital. Glances from Arce and Mario guided the band through peaks and valleys in new song “Wind Cries Linn” (streamed here), its core guitar lines memorable and built outward on stage, and “Dark Meet” from the band’s 2013 split with Fatso Jetson was the foundation for an extended final jam, Dino keeping a start-stop rhythm line that gave a progressive, languid space rock vibe. The crowd had thinned out by then, but those who remained knew they were seeing and hearing something special. Yawning Man carried that jam up, down and around again, deconstructing it only to put it together again, Mario pulling an ebow out of his pocket and Bill leaning his whole body into his cymbals, which seemed to have moved somewhat away from where they started out. As the four-piece of Gary and Malene Arce, Heaven and Stinson, Yawning Man will reportedly have a new EP out this year, and I can’t wait to hear what spaces they explore next. Like Dead Meadow the night before, they closed out Borderland Fuzz Fiesta 2016 on an otherworldly note and offered a prime example of why they’re so often given the “legend” tag.
When they were done, I hung around for a few minutes to say a couple goodnights and thank yous, so I’ll do the same here. First, to Wayne and Joey Rudell, without whose support and efforts this trip simply wouldn’t have happened. Thanks also to The Patient Mrs. for her coordinating prowess, to Todd Severin, Randy Blood, Bucky Brown, Mark Aceves, Rory Rummings, Mario and Dino Lalli, Gary Arce and everyone else I was lucky enough to hang out with over this weekend.
In a few minutes, I’ll get the hell out of this hyper-pretentious, Mickey Mouse reggae coffee shop and head to see some desert before I go to the airport. My flight is 11:30PM tonight and puts me into Boston at 6AM, gaining two hours back in the return to Eastern time. I’m looking forward not necessarily to getting back to real life — from which I think I needed a respite even more than I understood — but to seeing The Patient Mrs. and the Little Dog Dio, and that’s enough to get me home.
Thank you for reading. This has been an unreal experience and wouldn’t have happened without your support.