Friday Full-Length: Alain Johannes, Spark

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 2nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Context helps but can be cruel in doing so. To wit, Alain Johannes, already known at the time for his work in/with Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures, Desert Sessions, Mark Lanegan, Chris Cornell and Eagles of Death Metal — and that’s before you really get into his catalog as an engineer or producer, blah blah Sound City, and so on — released his first solo album, Spark, through Josh Homme‘s Rekords Rekords in 2010. Johannes recorded and played all the instruments himself, and the CD liner finds him credited with cigfiddle, voice, fretless ebow guitar, harmonium, contrabass guitar, cello, 12-string acoustic, percussion and drums, though honestly in opener “Endless Eyes” it kind of sounds like there might be more going on than just that. At an unassuming but elaborate 29 minutes and eight songs, it is very much a solo album.

And even that becomes a somewhat tragic factor when you understand that it was created in the wake of the death of Johannes‘ life- and creative-partner Natasha Shneider, with whom he’d worked since at least the 1987 self-titled debut of Walk the Moon (they had the hair to prove the era) on MCA Records. Throughout the 1990s, they collaborated in the band Eleven, making their first offering in 1991 and releasing their last full-length, Howling Book, in 2003, though an EP also surfaced in 2011 and remains the most recent outing under the name. Decades, they lived and worked together, in other words. And in light of that, Spark is all the more alone in the atmosphere of songs like “Speechless,” “Spider,” “The Bleeding Whole” and closer “Unfinished Plan.”

It is a loneliness resonant and outright beautiful when it wants to be, but hardly morose. As noted, Spark begins with a flurry of activity on “Endless Eyes,” the Chilean-born Johannes (né Alain Johannes Mociulski) drawing effectively from a bit of Latin folk in his strum and percussion, as he will again shortly on the penultimate “Gentle Ghosts,” but the subsequent “Return to You,” with stick-click timekeeping and a bounce in its cigar-box guitar — like a ukulele but more breadth — is a pure McCartneyist lovesong. Its rhythm bounces with added flourish of backing vocals, and its repetitive verse lines are a hook unto itself even before they lead so smoothly into the album’s standout chorus. Or one of them, anyhow. It’s a pop song, sculpted in that tradition, and plays light with its bum-ba-bum’ing as it shifts back to the next verse and, after a clean three-minute run, out and into “Speechless.”

What is a sparse atmosphere initially in “Speechless” is filled soon with choral vocals and far-back something-or-other, and one can hear the effect Johannes‘ songwriting and contributions had to alain johannes sparkmid-period Queens of the Stone Age, thinking Lullabies to Paralyze and the like. The subsequent “Make God Jealous” — the longest track at 4:58 — begins with a stretch of showoff improv-feeling guitar work that accounts for the extra 90 seconds or so, and carries that running thread throughout, while also mellowing behind the verse lines, the contrast feeling like clear thoughts coming through a morass of things half-remembered. The build caps suddenly with a last strum, and side B begins with “Spider,” the airy and crawling notes likewise evocative. Falsetto and what I’d assume is the ebow guitar — the effect is theremin-esque — fill out an arrangement that still feels relatively spacious and the quiet doesn’t abate because it doesn’t need to, and despite the obvious emotional significance of the material, Johannes is a working songwriter writing songs.

One wonders if translating ideas into verses and choruses, that act itself, was perhaps a way of making sense over the few years between Shneider‘s passing and Spark‘s release. I don’t know and won’t speculate. “The Bleeding Whole” follows directly after “Spider” and is about as dark as the album gets, which is something Johannes seems to acknowledge with the slap of “Gentle Ghosts” working a quick two minutes to revive the energy with which the record started back on the A side. There is nothing incomplete about it, despite the brevity, and its melody makes no less of an impression than its rhythm, giving way to closer “Unfinished Plan,” which brings in the cello and the ebow but keeps its relatively straightforward strum at the center, as Johannes works around the lines “You were not afraid of letting go/So I am not afraid of letting go,” and self-as-chorus layering ahead of the second verse and sort of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other’ing back to the chorus to finish out, ebow hum taking the bow as the last element present in the album.

That closer says much about the scope of the record in general, and despite the fact that it’s one of two songs over four minutes long — the other, as noted, is “Make God Jealous,” a counterpart ending to Spark‘s first half — it serves as further demonstration of the power of what’s essentially a built-out pop structure to convey emotion or anything else for that matter. Johannes continued to work steadily after the release of Spark, as a producer and multi-instrumentalist, as well as on his own projects. In 2014, he issued Fragments and Wholes Vol. 1 as a follow-up solo outing, and in 2017 began a relationship with game company Ubisoft that found him doing the soundtrack to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which, say what you will about the glorification of war culture, probably makes for a nice bit of walking-around money. Or paying the mortgage money. Or whatever.

Last year, in addition to another Ubisoft soundtrack, Johannes released his third solo album, Hum (review here), amid the summer tumult of July, on Ipecac Records, and it was a recent revisit to that offering that sent me scurrying after picking up Spark as well, which I don’t in the slightest regret. The album may be an examination of personal loss, but it’s also outward-reaching in a way that engages the listener and feels largely timeless. He’s got signed CDs available at his webstore, as well as colored vinyl and all that fancy stuff. In any case, if you know this record, you know it’s worth hearing again, and if it’s new to you as it was to me a couple weeks ago, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading as always.

Pardon me if I’m a little out of my head. Today is the deadline for the Roadburn (now web-)’zine and a bunch of writers have simply blown me off. I’m equal parts furious and disappointed.

I’m also late on PostWax liner notes for a release I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about yet. I wasn’t gonna do PostWax Year Two. I really wasn’t. Because last year it just dragged on me so fucking hard. I don’t know if you understand, but I put every spare fucking minute of my life into writing. I was up this morning before five and I’m watching the monitor in my son’s room for when he wakes. Every minute I get to do this is precious to me, and so help me god by the time the afternoon comes around, I’m basically braindead. And STILL! STILL! Last night, the last thing I did before I went to sleep was send an email about covering something or other, I don’t even remember what.

I’m not complaining — yes I am — but the PostWax thing. I always end up being the factor holding up the show and I hate being in that position. When it came to it, I said yes. I did. I said I’d do it. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine not doing it, or not being disappointed in seeing someone else’s work with those records. There’s plenty of other people who could do it, I know. At the end of the day, I just wanted to be involved.

But that doesn’t get the writing done. Putting your head down and getting to fucking work gets the writing done.

And the kid’s waking up.

The Roadburn ‘zine will happen, with or without the blowoffs. I don’t care if I have to write the fucking thing myself. It’s nothing I haven’t done before. At the end of the day, you go to print. Or in the case of this year, to PDF. Either way, when you say you’re going to do the work, you do.

My family is coming to dinner tomorrow for the first time in a year. I think we have enough chairs, but we might need to bring in the other table. I don’t know. It’s been so long, but enough of us have the vaccine — most crucially, my mother — so we’re going for it. Used to be a regular thing.

Let the record show I lit a fire this morning. It’s April 2. There’s a new Gimme Metal show on at 5PM today. If you listen, thanks.

Next week I’m reviewing the new Genghis Tron. Yawning Sons too if I can, but there are a bunch of premieres as well. It’ll be May before I’ve covered March’s essentials. I know. No one cares, dude. Just do your thing. I’m working on it.

Anyway, a great and safe weekend to you. Watch your head and don’t forget to hydrate. So important.

FRM.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

Posted in Features on December 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

50. Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion
49. Atramentus, Stygian
48. Arcadian Child, Protopsycho
47. Fuzz, III
46. Jointhugger, I Am No One
45. Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
44. Switchblade Jesus, Death Hymns
43. Foot, The Balance of Nature Shifted
42. Hymn, Breach Us
41. IAH, III
40. Lord Fowl, Glorious Babylon
39. Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos
38. 1000mods, Youth of Dissent
37. Deathwhite, Grave Image
36. Soldati, Doom Nacional
35. Cortez, Sell the Future
34. Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes
33. Black Rainbows, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
32. Shadow Witch, Under the Shadow of a Witch
31. Insect Ark, The Vanishing

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

The debut album from Colorado’s BleakHeart collected pieces united by melody and overarching atmosphere, positioned stylistically somewhere around heavygaze or heavy post-rock, but feeling less limited to genre bounds than some others working in a similar sphere. As a first outing, it brought a promise of things to come even as the depths of its mix seemed to swallow the listener entirely, equal parts serving claustrophobia and escapism.

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

There is not enough space here to properly commend Pale Divine founding guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener on how much he opened up the band by bringing in his and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s former Beelzefuzz bandmate Dana Ortt on shared guitar, vocal and songwriting duties. Completed by Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass/vocals, Pale Divine are a refreshed and ready powerhouse of American traditional doom.

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

One is going to have to get used to the idea of Uncle Woe residing in the places between, I think. An inward-looking cosmic doom that’s likewise morose and reaching, opaque and translucent, Phantomescence could be almost troubling in its feeling of off-kilter expression. Yet that’s exactly what multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice was going for. Thriving on contradiction, exploratory, and individualized. Start from doom, move outward.

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

Released by Off the Record Label. Reviewed Oct. 15.

I don’t feel like I’m cool enough to offer any substantive comment on what Chicago’s REZN do, but their sax-laced heavy psychedelia comes across warm and is invitingly languid while still delivered with a sense of energy and purpose. It rolls and you want to roll with it, so you do. They were clearly hurt by not being able to tour this year, as were audiences for not seeing them. Call them neo-stoner metal or whatever you want, these songs deserve to be played live.

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

A revamped lineup for South African desert-ish heavy rockers Ruff Majik brought producer Evert Snyman in as co-conspirator with frontman/principal songwriter Johni Holiday, and found the former trio working as a five-piece with a broader sound underscored by an electric sense of purpose and willingness to push themselves to places they hadn’t gone before. Their third record, it seemed as well to be a new beginning, and they met the challenge head-on.

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

The underheralded children of rolling fuzz riffage, Connecticut’s Curse the Son found new depths of emotion to bring to Excruciation — and I do mean “depths.” Dark times for dark times. Fueled by personal hardship, turmoil, motorcycle accidents and a pervasive sense of struggle, the LP was nonetheless a triumph of their songwriting and brought new melodic character to their established largesse of tone. Your loss if you missed it.

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Business as usual in ferocious heavy/speed rock from The Atomic Bitchwax on Scorpio — and that was only reassuring since the band’s eighth full-length marked the first since the departure of guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and his replacing with Garrett Sweeny, a bandmate of founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella in Monster Magnet. They barely stopped to cool their heels and yet still managed to be catchy as hell. How do they do it? Jersey Magic.

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

Such pervasive melancholy could only be derived from Irish folk, and so it was on Cinder Well‘s No Summer, which managed to move between singer-songwriter minimalism from Amelia Baker and arrangements of deceptive and purposeful intricacy. Wherever it went, from traditional songs “Wandering Boy” and “The Cuckoo” to originals like “Fallen” and the nine-minute “Our Lady’s,” it was equal parts gorgeous and sad and resonant. It remains so, despite the fleeting season.

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

Their fourth album and first since crossing the decade-mark since their inception, Pallbearer‘s Forgotten Days wasn’t just heavy, emotional or big-sounding; it was the most their-own of anything they’ve done. It felt exactly like the record they wanted it to be, and reconfirmed that the generation of listeners being introduced to doom by their music is going to be just fine if they follow the cues laid out for them here.

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

Released by Stolen Body and Vicious Circle Records. Reviewed March 26.

Less a reinvention of space rock than a kick in its ass, Slift‘s Ummon pushed well past the line of manageability at 72 minutes and reveled in that. The French outfit were greeted as liberators when they released the album, and with the way the respect has been maintained in the months since they’ve given themselves a high standard to meet, but there’s only promise to be heard as you get lost in the nebular wash of this sprawling 2LP. They’ll have two more records out before this one’s fully digested.

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

The first album in half a decade from long-established UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride found vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe coping with his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and translating that into the morose poetry for which the band is so well known and with which they’ve been so influential. My Dying Bride has never wanted for sincerity, but to call them affecting here would be underselling the quality of their craft and the heart they put into it. Follow-up EP is already out with extra non-album tracks.

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

Denmark’s Causa Sui may be on a mission to unite jazz and heavy psychedelia — and blessings on them for that — but the mellow jammy vibes they conjured on Szabodelico only emphasized how much it’s the character of what they do and the chemistry they’ve brought as bandmates that has allowed them to branch thusly in terms of aesthetic. It was the kind of album you wanted to put on again even before it was over, and its sweet instrumentals felt born to a greater timeline than a single year can encompass.

14. All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I’m not a punk rocker, but All Souls make me wish I was. Their emotive and engaged heavy rock looks out as much as in on Songs for the End of the World — their second LP behind a 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but it’s undeniably punk in its foundation, and what the four-piece of Antonio Aguilar and Meg Castellanos (both ex-Totimoshi), Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson) have put together builds on that in exciting, inventive and individualized ways, while staying nonetheless true to its roots.

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Five years after their debut album, Rocket Science (review here), Boston four-piece Kind return with Mental Nudge. And despite the different situations in which it finds the band’s members — bassist Tom Corino is now ex-Rozamov, drummer Matt Couto now ex-Elder — the group’s focus remains on carving memorable, mostly structured tracks out of ethereal heavy psychedelia, guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, etc.) and vocalist Craig Riggs (RoadsawSasquatch, etc.) adding space and melody to the crunching, driving grooves.

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

Founded by vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) and guitarist Oeds Beydals (ex-Death Alley, also ex-The Devil’s Blood) and commissioned as a project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here), Molassess are inextricably tied to Lemouchi‘s groundbreaking former outfit and its tragic ending, but the musical branching out into darkened progressive textures on Through the Hollow isn’t to be understated. It was an album that pushed past the past, not overlooking it, but finding new ways of moving forward in life and sound.

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

While of course the Mos Generator frontman is no stranger to writing or recording on his own, Funeral Suit was Tony Reed‘s debut as a solo artist and it carried his progressive stamp in melody and arrangement. It was not just a guitarist playing acoustic instead of electric, and it was not a manifestation of self-indulgence. Whether it was reworking a Mos Generator song like “Lonely One Kenobi” or pursuing a new piece like the title-track or “Waterbirth,” Reed found balance between personal and audience, evoking traditional songsmithing even as he reminded listeners of his dual role as a producer.

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

Spectacular showing from Kingston kingpins Geezer with Groovy as their first offering for Heavy Psych Sounds. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, the three-piece brought material that flowed with the organic feel of jams despite being structured and catchy songs. In pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty,” they melded stonerized groove with what felt like genuine emotional expression, and “Dig” and “Groovy” still managed to be a heavy fuzz-blues party. And they still had room at the end to jam out on “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” It was nothing but a win, rising to the occasion on every level.

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

So Bob Balch from Fu Manchu and Gary Arce from Yawning Man have a band. They get Tony Reed from Mos Generator on board. Mario Lalli from Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson comes and goes. Nick Oliveri comes and goes. Bill Stinson from Yawning Man plays drums. Alain Johannes sits in on vocals. Reed does a bunch of vocals; his kid does a track too. Per Wiberg from Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, Candlemass, etc., lends some keys. What do you call such a thing? Who cares? You call yourself lucky it exists. They called the record Vision Beyond Horizon. Can’t wait to find out what they call the next one.

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed April 27.

Omens marked a new beginning for Elder as the band pushed deeper into the realm of progressive rock and beyond their weightier beginnings. The arrival of Georg Edert (also Gaffa Ghandi) on drums in place of Matt Couto shifted the band’s dynamic in a number of ways, providing not a swinging anchor for the rhythm section necessarily, but another avenue of prog fluidity. Bassist Jack Donovan brought a steady presence in the low end as guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg embarked on new melodic explorations while staying loyal to the band’s established penchant for sweeping changes. Omens may live up to its name as a sign of things to come, but either way, it was a strong display of the band’s will to pursue new ideas and methods.

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

First words that come to mind here: “eminently listenable.” With seven tracks and 36 minutes, Reverie may not have taken up much of your afternoon… once. But by the time you gave it its proper respect and listened through three times in a row, the situation was somewhat different. The Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece gracefully brought together structured songwriting with proggier leanings and were able to bring together rampaging hooks like “Trace the Omen” and “Manifest,” casting a sense of sonic hugeness without forgetting to add either melody or personality along with that. The band — who here welcomed bassist Thorn Letulle alongside guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and drummer Thomas Colley — have worked quickly and evolved with a sense of urgency. Is Reverie the goal or another step on that path?

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (interview here), guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell comprise Grayceon, and with their fifth record, the band looks around thematically at environmental devastation through the lens of record-breaking California wildfires from their vantage point in the Bay Area. Even as the world shifted priorities (at least most of it did) to yet another global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, genre-melting-pot songs like “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “This Bed” reminded of the horrors humanity has wrought on its battered home, and still managed to find hope and serenity in “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a closing duo that shifted to a more personal discussion of family and one’s hope for a better future for and by the next generation. 2020 had plenty of horror. At least we got a new Grayceon record out of it.

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

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Alain Johannes Posts “If Morning Comes” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 10th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Alain Johannes (Photo by Tom Bronowski)

Alain Johannes — known as a solo artist as well as for his work alongside Chris Cornell, Queens of the Stone Age, and on and on and on — released his new album, Hum (review here), on July 31 through Ipecac. To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much to add to that review when it comes to talking about the record; bottom line is it’s quite good and I think you’d do well to give it some time out of your busy day. “If Morning Comes” is the fourth video from Hum to surface (the others are all below), and it arrives with the noteworthy direction of Liam LynchTenacious D, Queens of the Stone Age, Sifl & Olly etc. — who basically takes Johannes‘ head and sends it on a Zardozian journey for the duration of the track. In a word, enjoyable.

If you haven’t yet taken the time to dive into Hum, I’m not gonna argue with you. Dude doesn’t need my advocacy and the song and the video do a better job than I could hope to anyhow. Melody. Atmosphere. Floating head. Alright, I’ll stop.

Please enjoy:

Alain Johannes, “If Morning Comes” official video

Alain Johannes, who released his third solo album, Hum, on Friday via Ipecac Recordings (https://lnkfi.re/AJHum), has shared a video for the song “If Morning Comes.”

“’If Morning Comes’ was one of the most cathartic for me during the making of Hum. Many difficult nights while I was ill those words were like my mantra,” explains Johannes of the song which encapsulates the personal nature of the 10-song album, a release written during a period of illness and mourning that found Johannes taking stock of his existence, and his future. The psychedelic video, which echoes the meditative quality of the song was directed by Liam Lynch. Johannes says of the clip: “My dear friend Liam Lynch created this intense world so visually stunning and resonant with the song. He’s the man!”

A series of eye-catching videos have been released in the lead-up to Hum’s arrival: “Hallowed Bones”, “Free” and the title track, “Hum”. The clips have celebrated the beauty of life and the world we inhabit.

Alain Johannes, “Hallowed Bones” official video

Alain Johannes, “Free” official video

Alain Johannes, “Hum” official video

Alain Johannes website

Alain Johannes on Thee Facebooks

Alain Johannes on Instagram

Ipecac Recordings webstore

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Album Review: Alain Johannes, Hum

Posted in Reviews on June 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Alain Johannes Hum

While to heavy rock heads he’s undoubtedly best known as the erstwhile guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age, Alain Johannes‘ career stretches back decades and has seen him work in various groups and styles, including New Wave, alternative rock, desert rock, and so on. Ten years ago, he released Spark, his first solo album, through Josh Homme‘s Rekords Records and Mike Patton‘s Ipecac Recordings, and after other self-released solo offerings and collaboration with Patton in The Alain Johannes Trio feat. Mike Patton for the 2018 single “Luna a Sol,” Johannes presents Hum through Ipecac as the third full-length under his own name and the first since 2014’s Fragments and Wholes Vol. 1, though obviously he’s done other work between. The prevailing spirit of Hum, though, is personal and intimate, and the album stretching across just 35 minutes with 10 tracks that vary in arrangement perhaps more in mood, Johannes having no trouble at this stage in his career knowing the comfort zone of his voice, and being likewise able to craft material that is expressive while still engaging for the listener.

His cigar-box guitar and finger strumming, acoustics and electrics populate the songs with due sense of personality, and as opener “Mermaid’s Scream” has echoes of Lullabies to Paralyze at the outset, backing moans and all, what unfolds from there finds a niche for itself that feels as much folk as rock, and perhaps takes some extra delight in dwelling between genres, the finger-dance-on-strings of the subsequent title-track giving a dreamy feel to go with Johannes‘ vocal melody, sounding humble but not at all simple, giving a feeling of space through echoes and backing keys or effects drone — a hum, suitably enough. As “Mermaid’s Scream” and “Hum” are the two shortest cuts on Hum at under two and a half minutes each, even as they complement each other there’s a momentum being built that hints at a straightforwardness of form that “Hallowed Bones” builds outward, taking that foundation of acoustic would-be-minimalism-if-it-weren’t-so-complex-ness and adding textures of vocal layers and string sounds.

Thinking of “Mermaid’s Scream” and the title-track as a foundation for Hum is a useful way of hearing the album, essentially teaches the listener how to hear it, setting the basis early for what stands to follow in “Hallowed Bones” and “Someone,” which returns to the acoustic guitar but keeps an arrangement of intertwining vocal layering in an almost call and response chorus, reminiscent of a contemplative Bowie but remaining smooth in the delivery. “Someone,” then is the back-to-ground reset before the more forwardly electric “If Morning Comes,” bringing percussion with it and a brooding atmosphere that, like “Hallowed Bones,” adds to its strumming rather than departs entirely from it. As the halfway point of the record, it is a well-placed turn, and the first song yet to top four minutes, which is more than enough time for it to affect its hypnotic rhythm and winding solo edge as it progresses through the wash of its second half.

Alain Johannes (Tom Bronowski)

I’m not sure if he’s handling all the instruments himself, but Johannes is in command of the proceedings one way or the other, and after “If Morning Comes” marches out, “Free” pulls back again to a single layer of voice over a finger-plucked guitar, like the title-track before it, effective in its shift, immediately recognizable, immediately familiar, and rife with purpose. There’s a fullness of sound that comes from Johannes‘ technique, but it creates a kind of tension as well for the simple fact that there’s so much melody happening at once. It’s serene, but it’s the serenity of looking at a river with a rushing undercurrent. You realize there’s a pull there even if on the top it seems more peaceful. So it is through “Free,” which is — if it needs to be said — gorgeous, and gives way to the darker blues of “Sealed,” vocals rougher in the tin-can-blues tradition to suit its lumbering guitar progression, centered more around the rhythm than melody. Is ambient blues a thing? It should be. And Johannes should probably spearhead it given what he does with “Sealed,” including the electrified solo ripped out in the song’s later reaches.

Time again to go to ground. “Here in the Silence” is a sweet folk melody filled out by keys or guitar or flute or whatever the hell it is, as well as the cigar-box strum, and leaves nothing unsaid after its sub-three-minute run, offering a quick reorientation before the penultimate “Nine” reframes the proceedings once again with electronic beats and Johannes‘ voice farther back in the distance, locking into what turns out to be one of Hum‘s finest hooks in the process. By the time Johannes gets there, “Nine” functions well alongside the rest of Hum precisely because it doesn’t quite fit. The album has to that point bounced back and forth through these shifts in arrangement, drawn together by mood, melody and Johannes‘ voice, and those elements are consistent in “Nine” as well, despite the difference of use to which they’re put.

“Finis” is a self-aware closer, hinting toward Americana as much as desert-delia, and one gets the sense that had he wanted it to, “Finis” could easily have worked as a harder rocker. Instead, though, it is one last return to the acoustic roots of the rest of the record, though it does flesh out as it proceeds, backing vocals and other whatnot helping to round off the record with a nod toward summary, even if the intention doesn’t seem to be to have it be complete in that regard. There are things Johannes is leaving unsaid here, and it’s not that that makes Hum unsatisfying in some way. Just the opposite. For an outing that carries itself in such unpretentious fashion, there’s an air of mystery and obscurity that comes through the atmosphere as yet another factor adding depth to Johannes‘ craft. We’re that not organic, the record would be a joke, but as it stands, Johannes is able to bring the audience with him on this apparently inward journey, and the going is all the more resonant for that.

Alain Johannes, “Hum” official video

Alain Johannes website

Alain Johannes on Thee Facebooks

Alain Johannes on Instagram

Ipecac Recordings webstore

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 34

Posted in Radio on May 15th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

I did the voice tracks for this episode yesterday sitting on the wood edge of a large sandbox in a closed public park in Morris Plains, NJ, while my son played with the various digger trucks that adorn the place. Fitting that I should be here now too, writing this. He loves it here. Did last summer too, but is now capable of a bunch more imaginative play than he was a few months ago. Pandemic boredom and being stuck at home has expanded his capacity in that regard notably.

That’s life I guess.

While I’m thinking about it, I don’t really explore it in the show, but I’m continually fascinated by the perceived dichotomy between art and “real life,” as though the function of your day should be menial and any creative endeavor hidden away like a secret masturbatory fetish. No. The art is life. They go together. If you need the one, you need to make it part of the other or you’re sunk. Even if you create alone, you don’t do it in a vacuum and to pretend otherwise is just dumb.

Anyway, the show. It’s good and you should check it out. Will you? Probably not, but if you like lists of bands, here’s one. If you do listen, I kind of go on about music as an escapist trance in the second voice break. Again, while my son digs in the sand. That’s life.

Thanks for listening if you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 5PM Eastern today on the Gimme app or at http://gimmeradio.com

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 05.15.20

Faith in Jane The Well Mother to Earth*
Geezer Groovy Groovy*
Red Mesa Desert Moon The Path to the Deathless*
Kryptograf The Veil Kryptograf*
BREAK
Snail Nothing Left for You Nothing Left for You / Fearless*
Frank Sabbath Les Trois Petits Pochons Compendium*
Vestjysk Ørken Forbidden Planet Full Dark No Stars*
Tia Carrera Layback Tried & True*
Daisychain How Can I Love You? Daisychain*
Alain Johannes Hum Hum*
BREAK
Comacozer Sun of Hyperion Here & Beyond Split w/ Vinnum Sabbathi*
The Shell Collector Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse Raw, Improvised and Live from a Studio in Nalepastrasse*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is May 29 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Alain Johannes Announces Hum out July 31; Title-Track Video Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Alain Johannes (Tom Bronowski)

I don’t usually phrase things this way, but Alain JohannesHum is basically the record I’ve wanted Queens of the Stone Age to make since Lullabies to Paralyze and the record I’ve wanted Masters of Reality to make since Give Us Barabbas, so let’s say for the last 15 years-plus. God I’m old. Anyway, Hum is out July 31 on Ipecac Recordings and if you want to get a glimpse at the vibe of the thing, the video for the title-track is at the bottom of this post.

My recommendation is you dig into that and expect a reward of organic, desert-hued, finger-plucked bliss — “Hum” isn’t the only instance of it on the record, which varies in arrangement and dives into and out of psychedelic resonance, but it’s a highlight — and then go ahead and get your preorder in because gawd only knows what the world is going to look like by July so you might as well have something to look forward to in the mail.

I’m gonna go back in the meantime and listen to Johannes‘ other solo stuff, as clearly I have some catching up to do.

You go ahead and enjoy:

Alain Johannes Hum

ALAIN JOHANNES RELEASES HUM ON JULY 31 VIA IPECAC RECORDINGS

https://lnkfi.re/AJHum

Alain Johannes, co-creator of the highly influential ’90s alternative rock band Eleven as well as a key contributor on releases from Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures and Chris Cornell, releases Hum, his third solo album, on July 31 via Ipecac Recordings.

“It’s more about me than probably any album I’ve ever done,” says Johannes about the collection that follows a period of tragic loss, extreme illness and rebirth. “It was something I was striving for and needed to communicate. Coming out of a difficult period, I was liberated. I had lost people who were very close to me. I went through struggles with my own health. There’s a personal energy behind the way it was recorded and the feel of the songs. It’s a document of my life right now.”

Johannes is seen playing the album’s title track in a video released this morning. The clip, which showcases Johannes performing the song in the woods near his Los Angeles home, was shot by Frank McDonough and edited by Felo Foncea.

“You can think of the album title, Hum, a few ways,” adds Johannes. “Of course, there’s a musical hum. There’s an electrical hum. To me, it suggests a sense of mystery. When you stop and listen to silence in nature, the hum is underneath the threshold of hearing. It’s a mysterious and magical sense of something existing, beautiful, and alive. It’s a blanket word for the sound of the ether—something that’s always been there, always will be there, and everything comes from it. It’s the common connection to everything.” Album pre-orders, which include an instant download of “Hum,” are available now: https://lnkfi.re/AJHum.

Hum track list:
Mermaids’ Scream
Hum
Hallowed Bones
Someone
If Morning Comes
Free
Sealed
Here In The Silence
Nine
Finis

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Alain Johannes, “Hum” official video

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Dave Grohl Shares Clips from Sound City Documentary

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

If Probot taught us anything, it’s that when Dave Grohl decides to take on a passion project, the results have the potential to kick some serious ass. And just about a week after it was subtly announced Grohl had rejoined Queens of the Stone Age on drums, the PR wire sent over these clips from a documentary he’s produced called Sound City, about the studio of the same name. There are a bunch of “musical memories” interview snippets on the movie’s YuberTubes channel, but here are a few choice ones, along with some background on the studio and Grohl‘s involvement.

Again, courtesy of the PR wire:

Grohl was inspired to create SOUND CITY the film after purchasing that same recording console last year as Sound City announced its closing. Built in 1972, it is considered by many to be the crown jewel of analog recording equipment, having recorded such artists as Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Guns and Roses, Nirvana, Cheap Trick, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Fear and countless other musical legends over the past 40 years.

Grohl’s personal connection to Sound City dates back over 20 years, to the 1991 recording of Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Nevermind. Selling over 30 million copies worldwide, Nevermind not only changed the entire modern musical landscape, but also forever altered the course of Grohl’s life.

Josh Homme

John Fogerty

Alain Johannes

Joe Barresi

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