On Wax: Sons of Otis, Seismic

For cosmic sonic destruction, accept no substitutes. Now with over 20 years under their collective stonerly belt, Toronto’s Sons of Otis are a band like none other in tone and in ethic. You’re not going to get a new album out of them every year, but when a platter from the trio does arrive, you know it for the fact that the earth itself seems to be breathing and your hand leaves trails when you wave it in front of your face. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ken “Ox” Baluke, bassist Frank Sargeant and drummer Ryan Aubin signed to Small Stone in time to release 2005’s X after bouncing from Man’s Ruin to The Music Cartel, and followed X with Exiled in 2009. Their latest outing, Seismic (review here), was released last year.

It’s the unfuckwithable tonality and burnout lurch of the latter that arrives on my turntable this afternoon. Pressed in three colors — 150 black, 175 purple swirl, 175 lime green swirl — with matte finish on the Alexander von Wieding cover art, the LP is a bastard of low end. Baluke and Sargeant have never compromised on their dense wall of fuzz and Seismic is no exception. As Baluke echo-gurgles “Here I go again” at the beginning of opener “Far from Fine,” it’s easy to imagine he’s talking about blowing out the tubes of his amp as much as whatever foible the lyrics might go on to describe. At 50 minutes, Sons of Otis push the limits of the format, but with the side split after “Guilt,” side B of Seismic makes for an especially spaced-out hypnosis, starting with the nine-minute swirl of “PK,” with its layers of wah and echo and Aubin‘s steady march forward leading to the Mountain cover “Never in My Life” and another eight-plus minutes of aptly named “Cosmic Jam.”

This stands somewhat in contrast to the bluesier and more song-based side A, which has its vibe cast in resin by “Far from Fine” and the complementary “Lessons,” with “Alone” and “Guilt” also making significant statements of riff and zoneout. That divide and semi-split personality for Seismic was something that only came to mind in the abstract on CD, but with the vinyl, it genuinely seems to have been an intentional decision on the part of the band. I don’t know if they knew Seismic would get an LP release or if they just wanted to give a sense of sides anyway, but it works well leading to the meandering closing jam on Funkadelic‘s “Mommy What’s a Funkadelic?” guitar progression, which Sargeant holds down on bass with Aubin while Baluke goes on an effects freakout that is many things, among them pretty funky. All the more so upon its return from the titular cosmos at the album’s finale.

It was and still is pretty easy to get lost in the CD version of Seismic — I’d list that among the album’s assets — but even the simple act of having to flip the record makes it a different level of listening experience, and with the inherent perceivable warmth of vinyl to go with the deep fuzz Sons of Otis emit, it’s that much warmer. I’ll admit, I was a little surprised when the low end didn’t vibrate my turntable into oblivion, or at very least bounce the needle around, but the fact that it didn’t only makes it easier to turn back to side A and go again. Fuzz on.

Sons of Otis, Seismic (2012)

Sons of Otis on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone on Bandcamp

Small Stone Records

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2 Responses to “On Wax: Sons of Otis, Seismic

  1. Ryan Aubin says:

    As the drummer of this band and someone who works very hard every year to write, rehearse, and perform the music contained on the record reviewed above, I get no pleasure whatsoever out of reading this review as SCOTT HAMILTON of SMALL STONE RECORDS will not give us (the band!) any copies at all of our own record. Ken and I both collect vinyl and would love personally to have a copy each of the disc, let alone a few to sell at our shows. But we’ve been denied these and told that we’ll have to buy them. Seeing as the purchase of these records does nothing but help Small Stone Records and locks us out, I’d have mixed feelings as a fan about purchasing it. Just sayin’. Please know these facts before giving Scott your money. That said, anyone who wants to buy me one, I’d very much appreciate it…I don’t think I’ll ever be able to justify paying my own $$ for my own fucking records.


  2. Aaron says:

    Thanks for this review, and thanks for the info, Ryan. I for one will hold off from buying it until they at least send some copies to you guys, the very people who made it possible for me to give small stone my money in the first place.

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