Valley of the Sun, Old Gods: What Faith Brings

Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

valley of the sun old gods

They nailed it. Absolutely. That’s as simple as I can say it. Cincinnati, Ohio-based heavy rockers Valley of the Sun bring new character and dimension to their core approach in fuzzy riffs and classic desert-style groove, and with their third album, Old Gods (on Fuzzorama), the four-piece answer both the potential of their earliest work and the development that took place over their first two LPs. Led by the founding duo of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer, with Josh Pilot on guitar and Chris Sweeney handling bass and keys, the band present 11 tracks in a sharp-turning 41 minutes, tying together around a theme of greater instrumental variety and songcraft executed with airtight efficiency and purpose. In following up 2016’s Volume Rock (review here) and 2014’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk (review here), Valley of the Sun sound like a band who know when to take their time — closer “Dreams of Sands,” for example — and when to tear-ass through the speakers, as on the sub-tw0-minute scorcher “Firewalker.”

That maturity and self-realization very much suit their basic sound, which has always been professional at its foundation, going back to their first two EPs, 2011’s The Sayings of the Seers (review here, discussed here) and the prior year’s Two Thousand Ten, but has never quite had the reach it does on Old Gods. The album is quick to showcase that with the mellow guitar intro to the opening title-track, but it comes out all the more in the series of interludes peppered through the tracklisting. Named on-theme to the title of the record itself, “Gaia Creates,” “Shiva Destroys” and “Buddha Transcends” do an incredible amount of work in terms of diversifying and bolstering the surrounding material, taking the mid-paced nod and catchy rush of “Old Gods” and the subsequent post-QOTSA careener “All We Are” and lending depth and a more complete-album feel, despite the variety between them, with “Gaia Creates” dipping into sunny folk acoustics, “Shiva Destroys” a suitable percussion interplay, and “Buddha Transcends” an effective delve into meditative minimalism.

“Gaia Creates” is the longest of them at 2:16, and yet the effect they have on the songs around them is palpable, perhaps nowhere more than in “Dim Vision,” which sits as the only cut in between “Gaia Creates” and “Shiva Destroys.” It’s as much a quintessential Valley of the Sun track as one could ask for, even more than the opening duo of “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” but with the lead-in and lead-out, it’s given a special focus that seems to highlight its execution. On paper, it’s nothing overly fancy — basically an instance of what the band at their best have been all along — but “Dim Vision” is emblematic just the same of the progression they’ve undertaken over the course of the last nine years in the studio and on tour. Like the aforementioned “Firewalker,” it’s a song that sounds like it was made to be played live, and to have these tracks appear in such proximity to each other feels purposeful as well, with side A moving smoothly through a course that would be deceptive in its complexity if it didn’t just lay it all out there and still manage to ease the listener through its changes, whether it’s the kick in tempo between “Old Gods” and “All We Are,” or the head-spinning shifts from “Gaia Creates” to “Dim Vision” to “Shiva Destroys” to “Firewalker.”

valley of the sun

It’s worth noting as well how quickly those changes take place. The last four tracks on side A don’t add up to the total runtime of the first two. It would be an easy place for the band to lose control of Old Gods‘ flow, but they never do. Instead, they bring “Firewalker” to a crisp finish and mirror the beginning of the album with “Into the Abyss” on side B, which also begins with a stretch of mellow guitar, runs a moderate pace and gives an immersive, rolling progression for the listener to dive into, made all the more so by a laid back vocal from Ferrier, who only moments ago, was in full-on belt-out mode for “Firewalker.” Especially listening in a linear format (CD or DL), it’s not at all the first striking shift on Old Gods, but it’s another one Valley of the Sun make sound much easier than it actually is.

Fuzz comes to the fore in the relatively brief but effective “Faith is for Suckers,” a hooky, cowbell-infused desert riffer with a driving volume tradeoff, and “Buddha Transcends” resets the mood to quiet ahead of “Means the Same” and “Dreams of Sands” at the finish. With “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands” — the latter of which is perfectly placed as a memorable closer — as six-plus-minute bookends for side B, “Faith is for Suckers,” “Buddha Transcends” and “Means the Same” play out in a kind of parabolic fashion, both in energy and runtime; longer-to-shorter-to-shortest, and back up, though “Faith is for Suckers” and “Means the Same” surround the centerpiece interlude with arguably a more active spirit than “Into the Abyss” and “Dreams of Sands.” But if that’s the case, it’s only because the longer pieces are more ambitious in their scope, and “Dreams of Sands” not only serves as payoff for side B, but for the record as whole, rewarding the risks taken on side A and the structural turn of side B with a scope of its own that, as analogy for the entirety of Old Gods pushes beyond what Valley of the Sun have done in the past, ending on a long fade as if to return the listener to wherever they might’ve been before the quiet beginning of the title-track first cropped up.

Old Gods brings Valley of the Sun‘s take to a new level, pushing aside preconceptions of who the band are by using its theme to tie the material together instrumentally and structurally, and leaving one to wonder where they might go from here, whether it’s in integrating the acoustics and percussion of the interludes to their songwriting — would be fair enough ground to cover — or continuing to progress in some other, unexpected way. Perhaps most telling of all, listening to Old Gods, one feels less concerned about what shape the inevitable ‘new gods’ might take than the achievements brought to bear here. This is what Valley of the Sun have been moving toward for the last nine years. This realization. For now, it seems most crucial to understand that and appreciate the work on its own merits. Where it might lead is a concern for another day, but if you’re worried about it, have a little faith.

Valley of the Sun, Old Gods (2019)

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Review & Track Premiere: Kandodo3, K3

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 20th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kandodo k3

[Click play above to stream ‘Everything – Green’s – Gone” from Kandodo3’s K3. Album is out June 21 on Rooster Rock Records.]

Headphones at the ready for the third/fourth-ish full-length from Kandodo, this time incarnated as Kandodo3 and expertly delivering a packed 79 minutes of mostly minimalist psychedelic brainmelt. It’s been dubbed K3, simple enough, and its lengthy run plays out across seven tracks whose far-out sprawl is mitigated only by the distance the imagination of the listener is willing to follow them. At the nexus of all things Kandodo is guitarist Simon Price, also of garage-psych-fuzz scorchers The Heads, but Kandodo is a different bird altogether — not a bird at all, really; a supermarket in Malawi — and even as Price brings aboard The Heads bandmates Hugh Owen Morgan on bass and Wayne Maskell on drums to manifest the ‘3’ in Kandodo3, the identity of the project remains distinctly separate. It’s just something else, even if it’s some of the same people.

But what the three-piece construct, or anti-construct, in these tracks ranges from the 83-second guitar noise experiment of “Lapwinger” through the 39-minute final track “High on Planes/Drifter” that consumes sides C and D of the double-vinyl and finds Price re-teaming on the latter “Drifter” part with John McBain, as last heard in 2016’s dual-speed Lost Chants/Last Chance (review here), a record that itself was an experiment, intended for play at 33 or 45RPM depending on the listener’s preference and also presented as a 2CD with each version on its own disc. K3 doesn’t work with the same kind of meta-conceptual foundation, but its spaciousness in cuts like “Holy Debut,” the straightforward-in-comparison-to-what-follows opener “King Vulture” and of course the its-own-album finale, the record nonetheless weaves its narrative through open creativity and exploratory sensation. Its drone is droning and its layers are layered, but even in the lysergic music-box “Lounge Core” that closes side B and is just one of the two inclusions under six minutes long at 3:39, K3 basks in the unexpected and a vibe of weirdoist bliss that goes beyond “for art’s sake” and is headfirst into passion in the making.

And maybe that’s not immediately apparent in the 13-minute soundscape of “Everything – Green’s – Gone” at the close of side A after “King Vulture” and “Lapwinger,” but there is a joy in the creative process even in that piece’s moodier early stretch, where Price‘s buzzsaw guitar lead seems to be reminding of the forests lost to building empty shopping malls. The underlying low end — presumably that’s Morgan, but one never really knows and that’s part of the fun — gives that track its extra brood, and the drone would be enough to make Earth jealous, but the quiet key-like guitar (or keys), echoes “King Vulture” while foreshadowing “Lounge Core” to come, so even there, there’s some manner of intertwining “Everything – Green’s – Gone” to K3 as a whole. Similarly, “Holy Debut” feeds into “The Gaping Maw,” which is perhaps titled in honor of its spaciousness, in a way that highlights the overarching flow of the material. Not all transitions are so direct, but that change does make the point of how easily K3 has moved from one vibe to the next all along, doing so via long fades into and out of silence and the general open spirit of the material.

kandodo

That is, it sets up the audience so that expectation mirrors breadth. That’s no small feat — putting the listener where you want them, without the aid of catchy hooks or other immediately accessible fare — but neither is this Price‘s first time at this particular dance, and though he seems in places to be willfully giving up command of the songs in the name of aural adventure, whether that’s improv or just putting consciousness to the side for a moment and feeling out where a piece like “Lapwinger” does and doesn’t want to go during its brief run. That in itself is a joyful act, embracing that task of helping a thing make itself, and Kandodo3, despite the obvious shifts in atmosphere throughout, seem to have a sense of when to let go and when to steer the direction more actively — though relativity applies in that regard as much as in everything else.

It’s hard not to think of “High on Planes/Drifter” as a highlight, focal point, whatever you want to call it, and maybe that’s fair enough. At 39 minutes, it’s about half the total runtime, and its droned-out ambience is an achievement apart even from a song like “Everything – Green’s – Gone” or “The Gaping Maw,” oozing out with a fluidity distinct enough to be placed on its own LP and making its way from minimal to minimal-est as it moves toward what one assumes is the near-midpoint transition between its two parts, drums gradually fading in after the arrival of the 23rd minute with a building tension of tom hits, eBow-sounding drone and a rhythmic line floating atop. That thud holds almost maddeningly steady over the next 10-plus minutes, with the arrival of McBain (ex-Monster Magnet, Wellwater Conspiracy, etc.) announced via a fuzzy solo that only adds to the immersion of the track as a whole and helps carry it toward its quieter finish.

With the title reference to High Plains Drifter, there is perhaps unsurprisingly some spaghetti west in the atmosphere, but however it might use a repeating figure, “High on Planes/Drifter” never really fully adopts that specific kind of presentation. Like the rest of the album before it, it almost can’t help but be its own thing. And that thing won’t be for everybody — what’s that you say? experimentalist drone isn’t universally approachable? tell me more! — but whether those who take it on do so for the almost-80-minute blissout or to sit and wade through each subtle turn of Price‘s guitar the various obscure elements as they wade in and out of the mix, K3 nonetheless makes a personal connection with the listener via the intimacy at play beneath its surface and the honest creative whim at its core. So maybe it’s not for everybody. Fine. Those willing to make the connection, however, will find it delivers on engagement to a degree worthy of its vast sonic reach.

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Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle, Freak Out in the Fjord: Cosmic Collision

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

oresund space collective meets black moon circle freak out in the fjord

It happened once upon a Nov. 17, 2017, that respected cosmic improvisationalists Øresund Space Collective made their way from Denmark/Portugal/Planet Omega to Trondheim, Norway, where they were set to join with Black Moon Circle and take part in the Freak Out in the Fjord festival for which they’d eventually name this album. The title, though, is more homage than descriptor, as what makes up the record isn’t the actual live set, but the results of a studio session the next day. That might seem counterintuitive — especially for a band who are not at all shy about putting out live material — until one actually listens to Freak Out in the Fjord, at which point the results become largely inarguable. I say that as a fan of Øresund Space Collective, of course, but if you want to try to make a case against gathering a nine-piece lineup together, sticking them in the studio like some kind of off-the-cuff orchestra — three drummers and all — I’m happy to entertain it.

Certainly by the time they get around in opener “Rendezvous in the Nebula” to tossing off a swaggering reference to Jimmy Forrest‘s “Night Train” (also recorded by James Brown for Live at the Apollo in 1963), any such issue should be settled. From that interstellar-swinging 26-minute leadoff on through the other three more-than-a-side-consuming pieces on the 119-minute Space Rock Productions-issued triple LP, the personality changes, but the ultimate course of exploration is consistent. It’s jammy bliss, and as a particular sucker for an interplay between more than multiple drummers/percussionists, it seems like the rhythms here stand up especially well to the wash of guitar, bass, keys and synth surrounding. For reference, here is the lineup for the session, with their credits directly cut and pasted from the Øresund Space Collective Bandcamp page:

Magnus Hannibal – Fender Rhodes, Synthesizer
Tim Wallander – Drums (right), Fender Rhodes (Side B)
Simon W. Gullikstad – Drums (left)
Hasse Horrigmoe – Bass (slight left)
Øyvin Engan – Bass (slight right)
Vemund Engan – Guitar (right)
Jonathan Segel – Violin, Guitar (left)
Scott “Dr. Space” Heller – Modular Synth, Kaoscillator, Korg Monotron
Per Andreas Gulbrandsen – Drums (side B right, side C/D center)

For those familiar either with Øresund Space Collective or with the Norwegian-native Black Moon Circle, it will come as little surprise that the common thread between the two — aside from a propensity for psych-jamming — is Scott “Dr. Space” Heller. The bandleader of Øresund Space Collective has been a member of Black Moon Circle live and in the studio (also live there, as it happens), and as the two outfits work here under the collective banner of Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle, he’s the one tying them together. It is a noble endeavor. The general method of Øresund Space Collective is to hit the studio or stage, press record, and go. Like off-the-cuff jazz born of psychedelia and space rock, their work is always an adventure and always captures the specific moment of its creation, never to come again. Bringing Black Moon Circle — the Engans and Gulbrandsen, as well as Gullikstad and Heller himself — into the fold, they only expand the reach, and as Freak Out in the Fjord plays through its massive sprawl across “Rendezvous in the Nebula” (26:18), “Afterglow in the Sea of Sirens” (23:55), “Dinner with Gregg A. and Jerry G.” (33:16) and “Freak Out in the Fjord” (36:03), the pieces each develop a persona of their own.

This is true whether it’s the Southern guitar inflection of “Dinner with Gregg A. and Jerry G.” or the engrossing well of energy of “Rendezvous in the Nebula,” the organ and synth making their presence felt in the second half of “Afterglow in the Sea of Sirens” by building a tension that instead of blowing up pays off in arguably the record’s sleekest groove, or the title-track’s experimentalist pulse, manifest in bouts of noise and swells of volume as the group moves inextricably toward a grand finale every bit worthy of the nearly two hours preceding. But as with either the work of Øresund Space Collective on their own or Black Moon Circle‘s jammy material or really any such release, Freak Out in the Fjord isn’t about the destination so much as the outward trip to get there, however satisfying the end proves to be.

So far as I know, it doesn’t, but Freak Out in the Fjord should probably come with some manner of warning label about melted consciousness or “these people are professionals; don’t try this at home” or something of the like. The fact of the matter is that whatever else is going on, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle are in their element when mounting these sonic excursions, and it’s never going to be for everyone. It is a kind of extremity. Not of volume, or intensity — at least not in a “metal” sense — but of purpose. It is a constant drive to push deeper into the heart of creativity and to document its realization. Øresund Space Collective, its related outfits and especially Dr. Space have amassed an extensive discography, as a group like this will, but some of their best work is done when they force themselves into a different avenue of collaboration, whether it’s with Black Moon Circle or the likes of KG Westman or Gary Arce.

The core of their approach is unwavering, and well it should be, but over time, it is also showing itself as infinitely malleable to a range of contexts. Maybe that’s easy to say for Øresund Space Collective, since their approach is based on an open sensibility, but the prospect of improv space rock is one that could just as easily fall flat, or sound empty, and instead, Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle are engaging and immersive in kind. Whether you’re putting it on for a two-hour chillout or sitting with your headphones and picking out which drums are in which channel on which track, Freak Out in the Fjord delivers an ultimately satisfying experience for the converted or those willing to be, and while I know the whole point of the thing is to preserve the ephemeral spirit of a moment already gone — remember this was late 2017; though the two bands are touring together — I can’t help but hope Øresund Space Collective and Black Moon Circle meet again for another studio session, as it seems like there’s still so much of the universe to be discovered.

Øresund Space Collective Meets Black Moon Circle, Freak Out in the Fjord (2019)

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Kaleidobolt Premiere “Deadpan Blues” from Bitter out May 31

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 16th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

kaleidobolt

Finnish boogie-made-prog heavy rockers Kaleidobolt will issue their third album, Bitter, on May 31 as their debut release for Svart Records, and though the track premiering below from it is called “Deadpan Blues,” make no mistake, there’s just about nothing deadpan about the entire outing. Instead, the returning Helsinki trio of guitarist/vocalist Sampo Kääriäinen, bassist/vocalist Marco Menestrina and drummer Valtteri Lindholm bask in the experience gleaned from touring to support their second album, 2016’s The Zenith Cracks (review here), and use the recording process itself like another instrument in exciting and engaging ways. “Deadpan Blues” on the album follows directly after the previously unveiled “I am the Seer” (posted here, but also way down at the bottom of this post), a song that in answering the organ-laced righteousness and jangle of opener “Another Toothpick” and the cavernous rock-formation spaces of “Big Sky Land” (lead guitar there reminding just a bit of Elder‘s vivid tonality) melds frenetic boogie with surf rock guitar ping, consuming megafuzz undulations and a bluesy, boozy repeated lyric about being torn apart by memory. The roll that ends it devolves into static amp noise as Menestrina‘s bassline begins “Deadpan Blues” with an immediate sense of tension and the guitar (slide?) and snare march smoothly enter. It’s about a minute before the rush-o’-riff ensues, but man, what a blast when it does. It’s a track that takes the best of what the ’70s-worship set has brought to bear and pushes it into the now-future not only with tonal presence, but with a sharp delivery that speaks to the consciousness at work all the while. Kaleidobolt have been plenty diggable since their 2015 self-titled (review here) came out on Pink Tank, but Bitter feels like a different level of achievement.

And yeah, it should. The second album was a step forward from the first and their sound was immediately nuanced enough to make one think they were a band interested kaleidobolt bitterin growing creatively. Bitter not only builds on The Zenith Cracks in terms of its form — or in the case of the absolute diversion into noisy fuckall at the end of “Deadpan Blues,” its anti-form; fortunately the subsequent prog guitar lullaby “Interlude” gives the listener a moment to recover — but affirms Kaleidobolt‘s intent toward individualism and developing something deeper than the standard execution of genre. Even as the penultimate “Coyote” dives into Thin Lizzyism, it does so with its own take. And a mellotron! But part of what gives Bitter that sonic nuance is the recording itself, which lends particular space to Kääriäinen‘s guitar and has a consistent thread of reverb/echo that draws the ear toward the Spaghetti West without ever really going full-Morricone. A place in-between seems only too comfortable for Kaleidobolt, and with the whole-album-highlight drum performance of Lindholm as the grounding factor and Menestrina‘s winding basslines as the supporting structure, the guitar is free to construct as it will, an aesthetic focal point in a way that feels like a given for heavy rock, but is still make a conscious choice here thanks to variety in tone — that fuzz on “I am the Seer” returns on closer “Hydra” before it gets kicked in the psychedelic dirt for about nine minutes or so — and the ability of the band as a whole to affect varying degrees of mood and, from the outset on, maddening vitality, in their material. The underground universe is not short on bands updating classic forms. One would have a difficult time thinking of another doing so with as much character as Kaleidobolt bring to Bitter.

Again, the production, which was helmed by Niko Lehdontie, who’s worked with a number of experimental outfits like Oranssi Pazuzu and so is no stranger to thoughtful chaos, is part of that, but even Kaleidobolt‘s decision to push outside of the “norm” on the general sound of Bitter is emblematic of the consciousness at work behind what they’re doing here. On first listen, it can be a tough record to keep up with — because it moves, moves, moves, and requires your attention to do likewise — but if you need to, dig into “Deadpan Blues” twice in a row and already the second time you’ll hear it differently. It takes a minute to adjust to the scope of what Kaleidobolt manifest, but doing so makes the listening experience all the more satisfying, and not just for the kinetic nature of their ur-groove. Bitter is as much about aesthetic purpose as it is boogie-down, and for all its accomplishments, I’d offer zero guarantees the band are done growing. As much as their course throughout these seven tracks twists and turns, it is inextricably forward. Get down, and know why.

Kaleidobolt have tour dates upcoming this summer that will take them to Stoned from the Underground and that include shows with Yawning Man. You’ll find those and more info on the record included under the track below.

Please enjoy:

Kaleidobolt, “Deadpan Blues” official track premiere

With one foot in classic heavy power-trio rock ‘n’ roll and the other knee-deep in psychedelic frenzy, Finland’s Kaleidobolt blast off into inner space with their third album, Bitter. Having perfected their craft on the road all across Europe, with two previous albums under their collective belt, Kaleidobolt have become a fierce live experience, guaranteed to blow minds and ears.

Kaleidobolt, however, are far from your usual deafening stoner rock experience. Their music is all about texture and depth, and beneath the lysergically frenzied riffs hide worlds of exquisite soundscapes. For the new album, the band decided to take an even greater leap into worlds beyond and hired Niko Lehdontie (Kairon; IRSE! and Oranssi Pazuzu) to produce the album and Lauri Eloranta (the current go-to guy in Finland for indie pop and rock bands) to mix it.

Bitter is rock music frenzy that intermittently disintegrates into sonic cotton candy and the occasional western theme. Bitter is also Kaleidobolt’s debut for Svart Records, and we are proud to release it on May 31st on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats.

Kaleidobolt live:
5.7 Gothenburg / Truckstop Alaska (SWE)
6.7 Malmö / @PlanB – malmö (SWE)
7.7 Kiel / Die Kieler Schaubude (GER)
8.7 Berlin / Toast Hawaii (GER)*
9.7 Wiesbaden / Schlachthof Wiesbaden (GER)*
10.7 Cottbus / Zum Faulen August, Cottbus (GER)*
11.7 Wien / ARENA WIEN (AUT)*
12.7 Salzburg / Rockhouse Salzburg (AUT)*
13.7 Erfurt / Stoned from the Underground – Festival
*with Yawning Man

Kaleidobolt is:
Sampo Kääriäinen – guitar, vocals
Marco Menestrina – bass, vocals
Valtteri Lindholm – drums

Kaleidobolt, “I am the Seer” official video

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Review & Video Premiere: Slomatics, Canyons

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on May 15th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Slomatics Canyons

Slomatics, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” official video premiere

[Click play above to stream the video premiere of “Mind Fortresses on Theia” from Slomatics’ Canyons. Album is out June 14 on Black Bow Records.]

2019 marks 15 years since the advent of Northern Irish riffslayers Slomatics, and Canyons finds them charting a new path forward. Their last three albums, 2012’s A Hocht, 2014’s Estron (review here) and 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here), followed a narrative structure and made for a play in three acts happening over developing sonic depth in such a way that made the last installment truly feel like a conclusion. Released by Black Bow RecordsCanyons follows 2017’s Futurians: Live at Roadburn (review here) — which was something of a victory lap for those three records — and the Belfast three-piece’s 2018 split with Mammoth Weed Wizard BastardTotems (review here). It’s the latter, which was by my estimation the best short release of last year, that would relate closest to what guitarists David Marjury and Chris Couzens and drummer/vocalist/synthesist Marty Harvey are doing with Canyons.

Those familiar with the band will know that their ply and trade is massive tonal heft with Harvey‘s shouted melodic vocals cutting through, atmospheric sampling and whatnot bolstering an otherworldly feel that never really touches on psychedelia in the effects-wash sense of execution, but has plenty of “out there”-ness to it just the same. It’s a sound that was and remains remarkably well suited to a sci-fi thematic, and though they’ve let go of some of that from the narrative arc they ended in 2016, songs like “Cosmic Guilt,” on which the vocals seem to be directly referencing Cathedral in their style, and “Mind Fortresses on Theia” and the 9:28 opener and longest track (immediate points) “Gears of Despair” have that element to them, even as side A finale “Telemachus, My Son” acts as an apparent sequel to “Ulysses, My Father,” which appeared on the band’s 2014 split with Holly Hunt (discussed here) and album-closer “Organic Caverns II” follows up on who knows what. Someone else’s song named “Organic Caverns,” maybe? Because Slomatics don’t have one. So there. Still an air of mystery around them.

Where the “new path” idea comes from is the increased use of synth and melody alongside all that nod and crush. Slomatics aren’t necessarily going prog, at least not any more than they already were, but the balance of elements in their sound is shifting here, so that “Beyond the Canopy” leads off side B with a break into a stretch of quiet guitar before its ultra-slow, deeply-weighted lumber kicks back in, and that even its opening crawl welcomes a melodic lead either of guitar effects or keys before the next verse. The increased melodic base of the vocals is something that comes forward in the midsection of “Gears of Despair,” and there along with the rest of the record, it’s not about Slomatics being less heavy — because, quite simply, they aren’t — but about adding range to that weight and pushing into places they haven’t been before.

They’ll be well recognizable to those who’ve encountered them before, but as the synth-topped interlude “Seven Echoes” provides a bridge between “Cosmic Guilt” and “Telemachus, My Son,” and side B’s mellotron-into-noise-wash “Arms of the Sun” bridges “Beyond the Canopy” and “Mind Fortresses on Theia,” it’s clear that mood has become a different level of concern for Slomatics, and that their songwriting has expanded in order to allow for that. I’ll say again that Slomatics remain a very, very heavy band, and they don’t sound like they’re looking to depart from the core tonality that has driven them toward their best work, but perhaps taking some influence from the aforementioned Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, they move in and out of volume changes with ease, crafting a more dynamic and broader sound that only enhances the densest moments of groove, like the chugging plod that rounds out “Organic Caverns II” at the end of Canyons or the slow-motion stomp and forward roll of “Beyond the Canopy.”

In kind, there is a level of symmetry to Canyons that the linear nature of storytelling couldn’t really allow for on other recent releases; a conversation between the two sides of the eight-song/44-minute release. The most obvious example is that each half of the LP has its interlude in “Seven Echoes” or “Arms of the Sun.” They’re differently placed, but both well positioned to act both as transitions and a hypnotic moment to help put the listener in the world the album is making. Further, “Mind Fortresses on Theia” shares some of “Cosmic Guilt”‘s post-Lee Dorrian vocalizing, and the harsher low-end of “Gears of Despair” seems to find an answer as well in the early going of “Organic Caverns II.” “Beyond the Canopy” might be the most outwardly heavy moment on Canyons, but it still finds room for a cinematic push of synth, and that’s also something “Gears of Despair” introduced. So while the songs may not — or they may; Slomatics were never really clear on just what was happening — tie into the plot of the offerings before it, it works in different ways to have the material relate to itself, and that’s before one considers “Telemachus, My Son” in relation to “Ulysses, My Father.”

The underlying point, I suppose, is that Slomatics have grown to be a more complex band, and that Canyons demonstrates that in multiple facets of its songwriting and arrangement. That kind of thing can garner a mixed response sometimes from a fanbase, but the way they go about it here doesn’t lead one to think they’re going to run into many detractors. Without diving headfirst into hyperbole — though a sound so big could arguably warrant it — theirs is an approach that has it both ways, and they pull it off by adding to the mix rather than taking something away. Canyons are huge, and Slomatics carve out a few here, but what matters most of all is that a decade and a half later, they refuse to be restrained either by their own approach or the outside tenets of genre. They sound like a band writing the songs they want to write, exploring the reaches they want to explore, and as a result of that, their every lurch, push or wash is more resonant. If that’s to be the narrative they’re working with now, then all the better.

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Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension: Finding Inner Space

Posted in Reviews on May 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Lamp of the Universe Align in the Fourth Dimension

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hamilton, New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist Craig Williamson founding Lamp of the Universe as his primary solo outlet. At the time, he was best known as the guitarist of underrated pre-social-media heavy psychedelic rockers Datura, but in the years since, in addition to founding the trio Arc of Ascent at the dawn of this decade, he’s become a guru of mantra psych, acid folk and, of late, effects-swirling cosmic serenity. Lamp of the Universe is still identifiable from its 1999 debut, The Cosmic Union (review here), not the least because of Williamson‘s enduring penchant for sitar and his vocal style, but as one might hope over the course of 11 albums, the scope has increased for Lamp of the Universe, and the latest full-length for Sulatron Records, Align in the Fourth Dimension, puts emphasis on inward and outward exploration, with Williamson blending guitar and keys, percussion and voice, and always a lush and languid sense of melody that finds songs like “Light Receiver” and the later “Absolution Through Your Third Eye” poised and thoughtful works of assured execution.

Really, the same could be said of the eight-track/46-minute release as a whole. It’s the work of someone who has long since mastered the form but continues to refine processes naturally over time while keeping a central creative identity, shamanic in this case, but not at all overwrought or cartoonish. In some ways, Align in the Fourth Dimension, particularly in its acoustic-led side-closing tracks “New Forms” on side A and “Seasons of Love” on side B, calls back directly to the beginnings of the project in terms of the atmosphere created, somehow minimalist and spacious at the same time, but Williamson‘s arrangements have fleshed out. Layers of effects or keys/synth of various stripes give Lamp of the Universe a broader range, and even though opener “Visitors” is among the shortest inclusions at 4:39 — the CD-only penultimate cut “Call from Beyond” is the only one shorter, by a full minute — the context its backing waves of modular synth undulations and solar wind, eventual string-mellotron drama and slow-delivered vocal lend to the beginnings of Align in the Fourth Dimension is resonant enough to affect everything that follows. This, of course, is precisely the idea.

I don’t know at what point Williamson bought the organ that features so prominently on second track “Rite of Spheres” — seems to me it was a few albums ago — but it was the right choice. Still, it’s the drums that really make the difference. Williamson will generally employ some manner of percussion, but it’s not always a traditional drum set. Cymbals and snare and kick drum with quick fills maybe on a floor tom (?) give “Rite of Spheres” its pervasive sense of movement beneath the organ line and watery vocal. The drums are far back in the mix until the three-minute mark, when they come forward following a cymbal sweep and propel and electric guitar solo that puts even further emphasis on the full-band feel before the last fadeout leads to “Light Receiver.” With just a shaker for percussion, “Light Receiver” is a wash of melody in mellotron and guitar and sitar, etc., with an especially memorable chorus that holds to the rhythmic style of delivery one has come to expect from Lamp of the Universe, and it comes paired with the ultra-immersive “New Forms,” which feels more linear in its execution, but is gorgeously hypnotic while answering back the ambient spirit of the opener at the same time.

lamp of the universe

It’s by no means still, but the intertwining of acoustic guitar, soft eBow-sounding electric and effects, along with a purposeful-seeming lack of percussion, seems only to make it all the more gracefully fluid. As noted, it’s how the first half of Align in the Fourth Dimension ends, and the subsequent “The Leaving” begins side B with a likewise peaceful spirit, acoustic strum, vocals and organ flowing easily over the early going of the song only to turn more dramatic past the three-minute mark with the arrival of a fuzzy plugged-in solo, distant cymbal splash and general uptick of energy. It’s the organ and acoustic guitar though that hold sway when all is done, and “The Leaving” goes smoothly into “Absolution Through the Third Eye,” which sees the return of hand percussion and sitar along with a backing drone filling out the mix ahead of an echoing electric guitar lead that’s a subtle highlight of the album in its entirety not so much for what’s played as how it’s presented so seamlessly with its surroundings. The verse returns after with all the more a sense of drift, and makes its way eventually out, leaving “Call from Beyond” to push as far into minimalism as Lamp of the Universe will go.

Obviously, a big part of the appeal for Lamp of the Universe as an ongoing entity is Williamson‘s skill at varying arrangements for his material and his tack as a multi-instrumentalist. Working mostly alone if not always entirely alone, he’s able to bring either breadth of scope or deep-running intimacy to his craft in a way that is continually engrossing. With “Call from Beyond,” it’s the latter. Just him and his acoustic guitar. A bit of echo, but it seems to be mostly a single layer throughout, and I’d be surprised if at least the basic performance track wasn’t done live. As a “bonus” to the CD, it’s a standout, and placed well ahead of the finale and longest inclusion, “Seasons of Love,” which at 8:49 conjures a reach entirely its own with percussion, synth, acoustic guitar, more eBow, harmonized vocals and a flow unto itself that nonetheless makes a fitting conclusion to Align in the Fourth Dimension as a whole.

There is a linear flow that ties together Williamson‘s output as Lamp of the Universe that one can trace back across the last two decades, and for an ongoing project like this, it can be intimidating for a new listener to dig in. The age-old “where to start” dilemma. That’s fair. With 11 albums, who the hell knows. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t matter. And even less here than with many others. The overarching style and sound of Lamp of the Universe is welcoming enough that whether Align in the Fourth Dimension is someone’s first experience or they bought Heru from Williamson on MySpace in 2005, it isn’t going to make a difference. It’s about cosmic freedom — certainly not about to play the elitist. So, while time is often thought of as the fourth dimension and Williamson here aligns with it in a way that evokes a sense of infinity beyond what a human might conceive, I’ll just note that now would be as good a moment as one could ask for to get on board.

Lamp of the Universe, Align in the Fourth Dimension (2019)

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Dury Dava Premiere Self-Titled Debut LP in Full

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

dury dava

Athens-based experimentalist jammers Dury Dava release their self-titled debut album today through Inner Ear Records. Take a seat. Get your head sorted. Strap in. Me, I’ll pour another coffee. But you do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself for a bit of a journey, and by “a bit” I mean the record is 69 minutes long, so actually it’s less “a bit” and more “clear your calendar.” But fair enough, since you probably wanted to do that anyway.

Dury Dava are real-deal far out. Not we-have-a-delay-pedal-and-a-keyboard jams — though yes, they’ve got both — but sprawling krautrock composition-ishes infused with Greek and Turkish folk influences and instrumentation, resulting in a progged-up vision manifest across 10 tracks not afraid to get heavy in a garage sense every now and again, as on “Triptych” or “Satana” or the winding later “Ataxia,” but by no means beholden to the expectation of that or anything else. Songs vary wildly in arrangement and course, from high-drama art rock pieces like “Ela Pali Na” to the Mediterranean cosmic psych-folk of the 12-minute “34522,” which appears late in the record but still ahead of the 13-minute “Tarlabasi,” which feels like a companion even with the shorter “Ataxia” between them and the reality of the split between sides C and D of the double-vinyl.

dury dava dury dava“34522” takes cues from Doors and Chrome and classic Greek psych, while “Tarlabasi” answers back with gorgeous dream-toned guitar and wah bass and a laid back vibe that still holds some funk in its procession ahead of subdued, gentle closer “Kane Ligo Alithina.” The set opens with “Afriki,” and indeed there’s some element of Afrobeat to the groove in various spots throughout, but with flourish of clarinet and the proto-space rock launch in the second half of the subsequent “Triptych,” there’s clearly no one style or genre claiming Dury Dava‘s sound, the five-piece using multiple angles of approach toward a single coherence manifest in longer form works or the barking, percussion-laced “Zoupa,” which somehow reminds in its vocal melody of Donovan in those moments where the freakout is held at bay momentarily, or the dilruba-laced side B closeout “Kalokairi,” which resolves in a gorgeous guitar solo atop a drifting progression that stays mostly quiet but for some vocalizations accompanying. It’s as gone a lead-in as “34522” (which, by the way, is a postal code for Istanbul) could ask for.

Dury Dava, as the live-tracked output of a relatively new band begin in 2016, is more than just an encouraging debut. From a group whose sound is a conglomeration of traditions from folk to pop to rock and back again, it is a deeply individualized starting point for what will hopefully be an ongoing creative growth. The fact that the lineup of Karolos Berahas (bass, keys, synth), Giorgis Karras (electric guitar, dilruba), Dimitris Mantzavinos (vocals, electric guitar, bouzouki), Dimitris Prokos (clarinet, synth) and Ilias Livieratos (drums, percussion) are able to come together in this way and be able to craft such a sonic blend without losing themselves in the process only deepens their prospects and gives them all the more of an identity in the meantime. It is not necessarily an easy record on first listen, but even if one digests it one side at a time, the results are more than worth that effort.

I’m genuinely honored to host the stream today on the occasion of the album’s release. Please find it below and enjoy:

Dury Dava is a five-piece band from Athens, Greece. Their debut self-titled album was recorded live during several sessions in the second half of 2018 at Hobart Phase Studios, aka the mossy basement of an unwitting suburban home in Athens, the very rehearsal space where the band members first met over three years ago. In part it represents this very union and subsequent formation, and brings to the world, for the first time, upwards of 70 minutes of their original music.

Several compositional trajectories are employed, drawing inspiration from a wide variety of places. Their music pays tribute to the raw grit of 60’s psychedelia and 70’s krautrock, and fuses elements from the Greco-Turkish musical traditions such as odd rhythms and folk dances with a punk mentality, resulting in an amalgamation of contemporary experimental rock with heterogeneous throwback underpinnings. What it lacks for in discipline, it compensates for in energy and spontaneity.

The music was written by Dury Dava:

Karolos Berahas (bass, keys, synth)
Giorgis Karras (electric guitar, dilruba)
Dimitris Mantzavinos (vocals, electric guitar, bouzouki)
Dimitris Prokos (clarinet, synth)
Ilias Livieratos (drums, percussion)

Out on double LP and digital album on May 10th via Inner Ear.

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Lo-Pan, Subtle: Everything Burns

Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

lo-pan subtle

It’s kind of hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since Lo-Pan last released an album. The Columbus, Ohio, heavy rockers issued Colossus (review here) through Small Stone in Fall 2014, and subsequently dove headfirst into a succession of years of touring and tumult. About a month after Colossus, they announced guitarist Adrian Zambrano (Brujas del Sol) taking over for Brian Fristoe; touring followed in the familiar ground of the US and on the then-uncovered territory of Europe throughout 2015. Talk began of a new record and the band hit the studio even as more touring ensued in 2016, and then Zambrano left and Chris Thompson joined, making his debut appearance in 2017 at The Blackout Cookout 7 in Kent, Ohio. The material that Lo-Pan recorded with Zambrano, meanwhile, was released in early 2017 as the In Tensions EP (review here) and would be that year’s best short release.

Again, Lo-Pan went on tour, the four-piece of Thompson, vocalist Jeff Martin, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz running hard in 2017 only to step back last year and write and record what would become Subtle with their new lineup. Like In Tensions, the band’s fifth full-length releases through Aqualamb Records, and it arrives as they once again make ready to hit the road hard and tour at home and abroad before the end of 2019. Their commitment to what they do is admirable. In the midst of chaos and clashing personalities, Lo-Pan emerge to put forth 11 tracks/47 minutes of cohesive and few-frills songcraft. The songs, rooted in riffs and compositions by Thompson and/or Thompson (who are not related), feel as though they’ve had everything extraneous chipped away, leaving the essential components of expression.

That’s not to say Subtle is raw — far from it. With production by James Brown (GhostNine Inch Nails) in New York, the band have arguably never sounded so melodically accomplished. That’s mostly evident in Martin‘s stellar and soulful vocal performance, but it’s there in the guitar and bass as well, and even Bartz‘s crash seems to have a tunefulness about it. At the same time, structurally, songs like the opener “Ten Days,” “Ascension Day” and the later and suitably rolling “A Thousand Miles” channel powerful verses and strong hooks to a sense of urgency that Colossus brought to the fore but that’s smoothed out here in its tone and less outwardly aggressive in its overall affect. Of course, “Bring Me a War” still has its edge of confrontationalism, and likewise the early highlight “Savage Heart” and closer “The Law and the Swarm,” but the guitar tone is warmer, and that makes a difference.

The balance between these various sides and impulses, as well as the dynamic range in the massive crash of “Everything Burns” and the quieter midsection build of the penultimate “Butcher’s Bill” — I’ve always been a sucker for those moments when Lo-Pan hit the brakes on tempo — helps the band add a feeling of scope to Subtle, and as a bid for one of the best albums of 2019, it’s a blend of songwriting and performance that stands them out among would-be peers in heavy rock and roll. Though it’s anything but, Subtle is the output of a band who have mastered their approach and who still see fit to push themselves to new ground. Whether it’s the relentless shove of songs like “Sage” or the chug-into-happytime-chorus centerpiece “Old News” or even the more brooding “Khan!,” Lo-Pan stand triumphant in this material, and though it sounds hard-won, that only seems to make the victory sweeter.

lo-pan

It’s easy enough to read Subtle as a touring album in cuts like “Ten Days,” “Ascension Day,” “A Thousand Miles,” “Butcher’s Bill” “Sage” and “Bring Me a War,” on one level or another, as well as the cover art that seems to draw the eye to the desert sunset like moving down a highway laced with rows of shark teeth, but if Lo-Pan are chronicling the last few years of changes in the band and in their own lives at least in some degree within this material, then fair enough. Whether or not that’s the case, I don’t know (the finished vinyl and art-book editions include a lyric sheet), but if it is, then even in the slower “Butcher’s Bill,” they don’t sound anymore bogged down than is intended by the song itself. The album is not a minor undertaking at 47 minutes, but it’s not meant to be a minor undertaking. Even with its general lack of indulgence — as a guitarist, Thompson doesn’t take particularly sprawling solos, and Martin keeps layering to a relative minimum, saving harmonies for “The Law and the Swarm” and double-tracking for emphasis elsewhere — Subtle wants nothing for substance.

I’ll readily cop to being a fan of the band live and on record. Does it matter? I don’t know. I doubt it. As I understand it, the thing about Lo-Pan in how they function as a band is that they’re all very different people. I can’t speak to how often they hang out on weekends when they’re not touring, but in terms of the group itself, they’re able to channel that friction or that personality-clash into something special. Lo-Pan have been and remain one of America’s best heavy rock bands for the last decade-plus. Their second album, Sasquanaut (review here) — first released in 2009, then picked up by Small Stone in 2010 — and their third album, 2011’s Salvador (review here), were formative but pivotal works that helped establish the methods that Colossus and In Tensions and Subtle have refined and built on. They write and perform with soul that bleeds through every riff, bassline, drum hit and soaring vocal, and despite the ups and downs the last few years have wrought for them, Subtle stands tall and clean, having conquered a mountain of bullshit.

So yes, one of 2019’s best heavy rock albums. Fine. What seems more important is that Subtle finds Lo-Pan having come through so much without being derailed from what they do — “Ten days inside/Won’t break my stride,” Martin intones on the opener — and their central process remains vital even after being so tested leading up to this record. This is a band worth appreciating while they’re there to appreciate and the immediacy of these songs begs a likewise fervent response. Get into it.

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