Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.
But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.
Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.
Track details follow:
0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama
1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below
2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze
3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts
Posted in Features on December 15th, 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.
Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.
To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.
And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.
Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.
And so it is:
The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016
1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment
There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.
For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red Lama, Red Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.
It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.
They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.
From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.
A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.
It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.
As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.
Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.
And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.
Seattle duo Year of the Cobra released their debut full-length, …In the Shadows Below (review here), precisely one month ago today via STB Records. It’s a record that benefits both from scope and force as the bass/drum outfit of Amy Tung Barrysmith and Jon Barrysmith put to engaging use both the rawness that a two-piece construction can offer and a corresponding melodic breadth that, while nascent as one might expect in a debut, already marks significant progression from Year of the Cobra‘s 2015 first EP, The Black Sun (review here). Emphasis on both can be heard, as well as seen, in their new video for “Persephone” from the album.
Filmed earlier in November at The Funhouse in Seattle by Dead Cowboy Productions, it’s essentially a performance video with the studio verson of the track layered over, but to go with all that slow motion and black and white whathaveyou, one finds the fervent groove of “Persephone” itself. The leadoff for side B of the …In the Shadows Below vinyl, the song named for the goddess of the underworld and springtime is fittingly vibrant in its thrust, with Amy and Jon locking in shifts between righteous punkishness and dense nod, which can also be seen manifest in the audience in front of them that night, significant in their number, consumption and engagement.
Year of the Cobra were out earlier this year alongside Mos Generator, with whom they also released a split, and have been kicking around the Pacific Northwest with them as well for a couple post-Thanksgiving shows this past weekend. The two bands will head into California and back next week ahead of Year of the Cobra announcing more dates for 2017, which would seem to be impending.
In the meantime, my understanding is STB‘s numbers are low on the Die Hard and Obi-strip vinyl editions of …In the Shadows Below, so if it’s something you’ve been hemming and hawing on, that might be worth taking into consideration.
En route to one of those shows this weekend, Amy Tung Barrysmith was kind enough to offer some comment on the track and their intent behind it. That and current live dates follow the clip below.
Year of the Cobra, “Persephone” official video
Amy Tung Barrysmith on “Persephone”:
Persephone is one of my favorite songs to play. We wrote it about two weeks before we went in to record our full-length and had a ton of fun playing around with the idea of doing something that touches on our hardcore background, but then settles into a killer riff. This video was recorded at our record release show on Nov. 12, 2016.
Live footage was on 11/12/2016 at the Funhouse in Seattle, WA. Filmed and edited by Tyler Wilson and Dead Cowboy Productions. “Persephone” is a track featured on “…In the Shadows Below” which is available now on STB Records.
Year of the Cobra live: 12/2 – Seattle, WA. @ The Tractor – 99.9 KISW Presents 12/7 – Eugene, OR. @ Old Nick’s Pub w/ Red Cloud and Aerial Ruin 12/8 – Sacramento, CA. @ The Starlite Lounge w/ Mos Generator 12/9 – Arcata, CA. @ The Alibi w/ Mos Generator 12/10 – Medford, OR. @ Johnny B’s w/ Mos Generator 12/11 – Tacoma, WA. @ The Valley w/ Mos Generator and Ancient Warlocks
Posted in Reviews on November 9th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
It’s the kind of debut that makes it easy to forget it’s a debut. Seattle duo Year of the Cobra‘s …In the Shadows Below arrives via a cross-coastal alliance with New Jersey’s STB Records as the follow-up to an earlier 2016 split with Mos Generator coincidental to a tour together supporting their prior three-song EP, The Black Sun (review here), which garnered fervent praise almost immediately upon its release in the middle of 2015. Year of the Cobra have done nothing but gain momentum since. Both Devil’s Child Records and DHU Records had a hand in putting out the EP, and I’m pretty sure STB had signed on for the full-length even before bassist/vocalist Amy Tung Barrysmith and drummer Jon Barrysmith hit the studio with Billy Anderson (uh, he’s Billy Fucking Anderson) behind the board to engineer and mix.
Turned out to be the right call on the label’s part, and an easier one to consider affirmed with the EP showing such cohesion of approach between Amy and Jon and their clear demonstration of a willingness to get out and take their brand of heavy door to door, venue to venue. Fortunately, the eight-track/43-minute …In the Shadows Below builds so decisively on the first offering’s accomplishments. Reusing only one song — “White Wizard,” which opened the EP and appears in a pivotal spot here on side B — Year of the Cobra stamp their feet hard in heavy rolling terrain, proffering post-Acid King nod that revels in its guitar-less heft, the resulting focus on low-end leaving all the more space for Amy‘s voice to carry the tracks melodically, which she does ably regardless of the cacophony surrounding.
There are only two people in the band — hence “duo,” “two-piece,” etc. — but …In the Shadows Below is nothing if not well populated. Song titles list characters human, mystic and animal beginning with opener “Lion and the Unicorn,” and continuing as a theme through “Vision of Three” (about three witches), “Spider and the Fly,” “Persephone,” “White Wizard,” “Temple of Apollo” and closer “Electric Warrior,” who would seem to also be depicted on the cover art. Only second track “The Siege” would comes through as about the action of a narrative rather than the character perspective inherent to it, and those lyrics, presented over one of the record’s speedier and hookiest gallops, take on a first-person point of view, Amy‘s breathy echoes warning, “They’re coming for us.”
Front to back, this has the effect of drawing together the material under a theme, though I’ll admit that with the molasses consistency in Amy‘s tone and the bounce-prone drumming style from Jon, Year of the Cobra could probably go from “The Siege” to a song about the tv show Diff’rent Strokes and make it work. They are bolstered by Anderson‘s production, the now-Pacific Northwest-based producer having previously worked with the likes of Sleep and Acid King (among many others, of course), but find an identity through surging volume in “The Siege” and grueling, spacious nod in “Vision of Three” that only sets them up to further distinguish themselves from their influences as time goes on, also working as a deceptive lead-in for a burst of faster-paced cuts that begins with “Spider and the Fly” closing out side A and continues into “Persephone,” “White Wizard” and “Temple of Apollo” on side B.
The latter, penultimate track is perhaps the fastest of the bunch and the most straightforward, taking in a classic pop-rock sensibility as Year of the Cobra reimagine Blondie as a sludge artist without sacrificing the irresistible choruses thereof. Thinking of the band’s potential, which is writ large across the record’s entirety, to have elements of songwriting like that — which go beyond even the major-key positivity of Torche in their unabashed friendliness — can only make them a richer sonic experience. They would not be the first to take on a sludge-pop blend — see the aforementioned Torche, and Floor before them — but the get-your-ass-on-that-rowing-machine sense of drive behind “Temple of Apollo” is palpable and striking.
Even more so with “Electric Warrior” behind it, returning to a slower nod in a late affirmation of contrast that bookends …In the Shadows Below with layered-in wah, far-back vocals and swells of volume as Amy and Jon move through the chorus, only to recede again in the verse. By the time they move toward the final push with some more Mars Red Sky-style low-end wah, they’ve built a significant wall of volume around them, but the crashing finish and residual amp hum that close out still only seem like the beginning of their story. In that way, maybe it is easy to keep in mind that …In the Shadows Below is Year of the Cobra‘s first album, since so much of hearing leads one toward imagining how they might continue to grow as they move forward. I won’t speculate as to where that growth might take them — at least not in writing — but it’s encouraging just how underway the process of getting there already seems to be, and the care and craft behind these songs put …In the Shadows Below among 2016’s finer debuts.