Album of the Summer of the Week: Wight, Through the Woods into Deep Water

Posted in Features on August 28th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I know it hasn’t yet been a full month since I reviewed Wight‘s Through the Woods into Deep Water, but it actually arrived much earlier than that, and in a lot of ways, the second album from the German stonerly trio has summed up the crux of my summer. It’s languid in some parts and unrepentantly heavy in others, and as we round out this weekly feature and approach Labor Day — the traditional end of summer here in the States, at least as regards back-to-school time and vacationing — there doesn’t seem to be a single record that comes to mind more than Wight‘s as having been such a regular feature throughout the season.

Whether it was the bleak weirdness of “Kiss Your Friends Goodbye” or the reconfigured Pentagram riffing of “I Spit on Your Grave,” the sleepy psychedelia of the title-track or the dirty blues of “You!,” Wight‘s jam-ready platter made for an easy go-to, suitable to any number of moods and atmospheres. In the car, in the yard and in the office (where I was more than anywhere else these past few months), the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rene Hofmann, bassist/saxophonist Peter-Philipp Schierhorn and drummer Michael Kluck proved malleable to whatever was going on at the time, and the songs made a reliable fit, no matter what.

If you go back over the past Album of the Summer of the Week picks, you’ll notice that none of them were from this year. A couple from 2011, and others scattered throughout the past few decades, but Through the Woods into Deep Water is the only 2012 pick for this whole series of posts and that’s on purpose. There are a ton of records I’ve been immersed in for review and just general listening purposes, but Wight has been a consistent presence throughout the last couple months and I continue to appreciate its varied and rich atmospherics even as I tilt my head back and just let the riff of “Master of Nuggets” carry me where it will.

In case you’ve not yet had the chance to be carted off by their boogie shuffle or bass heavy grooving, here’s Wight‘s Through the Woods into Deep Water in its entirety, courtesy of their Bandcamp page, where the album is available in an array of CD and LP editions: 

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Colour Haze, Colour Haze

Posted in Features on August 21st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I said a few weeks back that Berlin heavy psych masters Colour Haze would get their turn as the Album of the Summer of the Week… so uh… I guess I was right. So there. I’ll take that cookie whenever you’ve got it ready to go.

To be fair, they’re a pretty obvious pick. If there’s any reason I held off for so long in choosing them, it’s because I kept arguing back and forth about which album to choose. Just about everything they’ve done since 2001 has something working in its  favor, whether it’s the two-disc extendedness of 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts making it perfect for languishing on a long afternoon sitting in the backyard, or the peaceful warmth of 2006’s Tempel, or the wide-open jammy flow of 2008’s All. In the end though, I went with Colour Haze‘s 2004 self-titled, because it seems to encapsulate all these things about the others.

It’s probably not the trio’s best album — that’s a designation that seems to change with whatever I’ve got on at the time — but Colour Haze‘s Colour Haze has classic prog interplay in “Did êl It,” plenty of subtle Hendrixian build in “Love” and a tonal warmth that no matter how many bands in the European scene try to match, no one seems quite able to do it. You could teach a semester on Stefan Koglek‘s guitar tone, but Colour Haze is just as much about drummer Manfred Merwald and bassist Philipp Rasthofer, and the self-titled was the moment when the three of them really nailed down the chemistry that they’ve been working so diligently to perfect ever since.

And as to the atmosphere of the album itself, even if it’s winter when you put on the beginning of “Peace, Brothers & Sisters!” it’ll be summer by the time you’re through the track’s 22 minutes. The real magic comes from the fact that you could say the same thing about the track before it, the 3:45 acoustic cut “Solitude.” Right on.

We’ll have just one more Album of the Summer of the Week to get it in before Labor Day, but in the meantime, here’s the aforementioned “Peace, Brothers & Sisters!” to get you dancing and get your yayas out before Colour Haze‘s three-hour gig next month in London, should you be fortunate enough to go. Please enjoy:

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Yawning Man, Nomadic Pursuits

Posted in Features on August 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

This one is, I admit, a personal pick. The past six weeks of Album of the Summer of the Week choices have all had various appeals, but Yawning Man‘s 2010 outing, Nomadic Pursuits — even for just being two years old — has as much personal association as any album I own.

I only wrote about it a little bit at the time, but from July-August, 2010, The Patient Mrs. and I rented a cabin in Belmont, Vermont, for the whole month. I was only vaguely employed at the time, and she had the summer off from teaching, so we put what little money we had into it and made it work. Nomadic Pursuits was one of the albums I brought with me to review (and I did; review here) while we were up there.

The thing about it is, that month in Vermont was almost everything I’ve ever wanted my life to be. I woke up every day at 10AM, rolled over in bed, picked up my laptop, and wrote. I wrote stories, I wrote essays, reviews, whatever. All of it. I just wrote. I wrote, and wrote and wrote, and writing is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Well, that and travel, but even the traveling is part of the writing.

But that’s what life was in Vermont. I wrote, and The Patient Mrs. did her work, and we read, and we hung out with the little dog Dio, and when we were done for the day, we’d eat some local cheddar at the small kitchen table and watch the sunset over the lake down the way or knock off down the side of the mountain and hit up the Irish pub to watch the baseball game. By the end of the month, they knew our names, we’d been there so often. It was damn near perfect, living that pipedream and forgetting by the end of it how much it actually cost to make that happen, how unfeasible an existence that was. It was so hot up there, this and Quest for Fire‘s Lights from Paradise were all I had to keep cool.

Every time I hear Nomadic Pursuits — which was crafted by Yawning Man to represent an almost-opposite landscape of the Californian desert, not the forests of New England — I go back there, riding up those empty roads in the middle of the night after some show I drove down to New York to see, or sitting on the patio at night with the bug zapper going. Honestly, it’s a record I can barely listen to at this point, in light of all the stupid decisions I’ve made since then — things like going back to work full-time, and, well, staying back at work full-time, cutting myself off from writing almost completely in ways that aren’t either this or corporately-mandated shilling — but putting it on today to write up this post, it’s a sweet bit of escapism I’m enjoying. We were back by this point in August, anyway.

I’m still holding out hope that Gary Arce‘s new Yawning Man lineup will have an album out before the end of this year, but in the meantime, here’s the opener that more or less defines the course of this whole record:

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Black Sabbath, Live in Paris 1970

Posted in Features on August 7th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Strictly speaking, the name of the CD is War Pigs, but I wanted there to be no confusion that what I’m talking about is Black Sabbath‘s gig at L’Olympia in Paris, France, from December 20, 1970. I know I’ve posted about it here before, and it’s probably the most famous of the many Sabbath bootlegs out there (if it’s second to anything, it’s Asbury Park, 1975; even that’s debatable), but it’s something I’ve gone back to a few times this summer for repeat listens, and it well earns its place as the Album of the Summer of the Week.

Whatever happened afterwards and whatever seemingly unending trail of bullshit infighting follows the band to this very day, in December 1970, Black Sabbath were basically dopey kids. This show was recorded a mere two months after Paranoid was released, and the performance is signature. From Geezer Butler‘s bass righteousness in “Hand of Doom” to Ozzy Osbourne even then not being able to remember the lyrics to “Iron Man,” Tony Iommi‘s burgeoning mastery of the riff and Bill Ward‘s manic fills, listening to War Pigs they sound like a band poised to create the greatest album ever — which of course they’d do with Master of Reality, released the following summer.

But War Pigs is overflowing with potential and if there’s a better way to end an hour-long set than “Fairies Wear Boots” — the verses of which are murdered here to hilarious effect — I’ve never encountered it. This being the age of ubiquitous online bootleggery (the up and down merits of which are a debate for another time altogether), the entire Paris 1970 set has made its way onto YouTube in glorious high definition, so please feel free to enrich your overheated summer afternoon with it below.

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Eggnogg, Moments in Vacuum

Posted in Features on July 30th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Since I started the Album of the Summer of the Week feature five weeks ago now, we’ve talked a lot about the heat, about the sunshine, about the Jersey humidity that rests itself between the ground and the sky and seems like it’s never going to leave. I’ve written more about the weather in the last month than I could’ve ever imagined I would when I started this site.

But one thing I haven’t covered yet in the AotSotW (which is the acronym by which I refer to it on my to-do list) is what to do for a summer night. Sure, there’s always Sabbath, and I highly recommend that as well, but one album that’s come to my mind several times over the last few weeks is last year’s Moments in Vacuum (review here), by Brooklyn heavy psych upstarts Eggnogg. It’s perfect for these hot-as-hell summer nights.

Let’s say, for example, you’re sitting in the yard, maybe drunk, maybe sober, and you’ve got the bug zapper going in the background. Purely hypothetical situation — not at all something that happened to me this weekend. You’ve got a couple good friends there. The temperature’s finally broke after a bout of rain, and here comes Eggnogg to round out the night perfectly with eight tracks of unrepentant lo-fi riffing, ’90s style moaning vocals and periodic bursts of all out doom. Whether it’s the odd compression in the cymbals of the 12-minute “Wheel of the Year” or the slowed-down, somehow-’80s boogie of “Raking in the Dough,” Eggnogg‘s Moments in Vacuum has so much space in the recording that it’s great for rounding out an evening on a low key but still rocking kind  of vibe. You could do a hell of a lot worse than the dual-layered solos at the end of “Cydonia” before crashing out.

Something else working in Moments in Vacuum‘s favor is that it’s long. At 74 minutes, you can put it on and know that you don’t have to worry about chasing down another disc — because, yes, while you’re sitting in the yard with the bug zapper and a nightcap and a few good friends, you play CDs in this totally hypothetical alternate universe — and even as the title-track comes to an end and you think it’s over, you’ve still got the 15:15 of “Rhythmic Past” to go. It’s got enough variety of mood that whether you’re partying or winding down, it fits, and most of all, it kicks ass. You know that’s always a plus.

Check out “Wheel of the Year” below and wait for the sun to go down:

Good news for enthusiasts of The Nogg in that they’ve got a new EP out now called Louis. More info at the Palaver Records site.

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Brant Bjork, Jalamanta

Posted in Features on July 23rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

When Man’s Ruin Records was getting ready to put out 1999’s Jalamanta, the first solo album from former Kyuss and Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork, they said in the album bio that it was “Psychedelic, soulful, organic, sexy…” and that “Man’s Ruin considers this one of their most interesting releases to date,” citing the likes of War as inspiration. Throughout the years and many subsequent solo offerings since, funk has always remained an essential part of Brant Bjork‘s work, and that ultra-grooving, ultra-warm low end is part of what makes Jalamanta a perfect summertime record, as well as the quintessential desert rock release.

The other part is the laid back vibe that Bjork constructs out of that low end. From the very start of “Lazy Bones” and “Automatic Fantastic,” Jalamanta bleeds cool. It’s a record that’s had untold influence on the current heavy rock scene — especially in Europe; one can hear shades of jams like “‘Let’s Get Chinese Eyes'” or “Defender of the Oleander” across a wide swath of bands — and its psychedelic elements only added mystique to the sun-baked atmosphere. Not to discount anything Kyuss did, but Jalamanta sounds even more purely of the desert, and if the song “Low Desert Punk” is anything to go by, Bjork knew exactly what he was doing and the sound he was embodying when he made it.

And while Brant Bjork would go on to become the godfather of desert rock and Jalamanta would in large part define the course of his career as a solo songwriter — a career that seemed to be sidetracked following a label deal with Napalm Records last year by the emergence of Kyuss Lives!, whose fate remains uncertain pending litigation — the album’s appeal isn’t necessarily limited to its geography. Sure, it’s low desert punk, but for example, right now it’s so humid outside my office that if you moved your arms the right way you could do a breast stroke through the air, and Jalamanta proves a perfect fit for Jersey’s perma-haze as well.

The album was reissued on Bjork‘s own Duna Records in 2003 (minus the Mario Lalli-fronted “Toot”) and again by his next label incarnation, Low Desert Punk (with that track restored and a bonus Blue Öyster Cult cover) on vinyl in 2009, and the original is out there on the secondary market, so Jalamanta is around, but if like me you’re too paralyzed by the heat to move and check it out, here’s “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” courtesy of the YouTubes:

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Sungrazer, Mirador

Posted in Features on July 16th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Mirador is an easy candidate for a summer album. Sungrazer‘s fuzz is so warm, and the vibe of their second album (released on Elektrohasch last year; review here) is so mellow even in its heaviest parts, that the overall affect is languid almost to the point of sunshiny sleepiness. A song like the 13-minute “Behind” is as fitting for a July day as an ice water. Like I say, this one’s an easy candidate, and I guess you could say the same for a lot of post-Colour Haze (their time will come in this feature) European heavy psych — thinking of groups like The Machine or maybe even My Sleeping Karma — but Mirador‘s balance between nodding riffs and exploratory jams is my pick for the best yet to come out of that scene.

And in terms of placing the album, I’ve found that it not only works so well in the summer, sitting outside in the yard, enjoying the good company of The Patient Mrs. and a few delectable fermented beverages, etc., but in addition to that, Mirador is an especially good listen in the morning. I’ve constructed a long theory as to why this is so, including placement of the sun and the alignment of Earth along its axis — sometime I’ll show you the Powerpoint presentation I made; it’s got 36 cards! — but basically what it comes down to is Rutger Smeets‘ guitar tone and the ping in the ride cymbal of Hans Mulders sounds like the start of the day, and Sander Haagmans‘ Rickenbacker (previously lauded here) is the afternoon to come.

Sungrazer reportedly have a new album in the works, and they’ve been playing new material live for the last couple months at least, so it’ll be interesting to hear how they follow up and expand on Mirador‘s encompassing psychedelia when the time comes for the next release. One to look forward to. That said, though it’s only been out for a year, I’ve no doubt the trio’s sophomore outing will be a staple of many summers to come. It’s an album worth waking up for.

Here’s “Behind” to get your day started, whatever time it might be where you are:

Bless their industrious hearts, Sungrazer are currently on tour in Europe. Keep up with them and their many doings at their official website.

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Album of the Summer of the Week: Cactus, Cactus

Posted in Features on July 9th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

The 1970 self-titled debut from Long Island power-foursome Cactus has moments that are so hot it actually sounds like Jim McCarty‘s fingers are on fire while he’s playing. All the more fitting, then, that the unparalleled blues rocking LP should be the Album of the Summer of the Week. As if the album cover — more than a little suggestive — wasn’t scorching enough, listening to Carmine Appice rip into the fills on “Parchman Farm” or the band ease their way into the twanging grooves on “Bro. Bill?” Let’s face it, you could fry an egg on CactusCactus and it would be the most delicious egg you’ve ever tasted.

“Let Me Swim” does Zeppelin better than Zeppelin, vocalist Rusty Day turning each verse into a chorus of its own, and the cool slowdown bassline from Tim Bogert makes “No Need to Worry” like a splash of cold water on the face before “Oleo” and “Feel So Good” bring the record to its good-time jamming finish. The atmosphere is sunny, natural and warm. Even the oft-coopted Willie Dixon cover, “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (wasn’t that in car commercials or something?), sounds fresh every time I hear the album, and for its utter out-of-placeness, “My Lady From South of Detroit” is a great turn from “Parchman Farm” at the beginning of the album. Sorry, but there’s just nowhere to go wrong on this one.

Admittedly, this is something of a personal pick for me as well, as Cactus was one of the records in which I most immersed myself over the course of July 2010 when The Patient Mrs. and I stayed in Vermont for the month. As those were some of the best times I’ve ever had, it’s probably as good an association as I can have with for record, but even if you haven’t made your memories with it yet, these songs are bound to make an impression. Cactus put out two more albums with the Day/McCarty/Bogert/Appice lineup — 1971’s One Way… Or Another and 1972’s Restrictions — before the inevitable dissolution of the band as it was, but Cactus has a kind of magic to it that even they wouldn’t capture again, let alone anyone else stepping up to do so.

And in the summer, you just can’t beat it. In case you don’t have your original Atco vinyl handy, here’s “Let Me Swim” to cool the core:

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