The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

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[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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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal Playlist: Episode 49

Posted in Radio on December 23rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

I was kicking around the idea of not doing a year-end list for 2020. Honestly, between this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal and the last one, that pretty much covers my picks, and who the hell cares about what order they’re in? It’s December and everyone and their brother has a list out. Do we really need another one? I’m doing a Quarterly Review right now, covering more music. To me, that seems like a more righteous cause.

Of course, I’ll probably end up doing a list anyway next week, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a soundtrack to your in-quarantine holiday experience, the second half of the ‘Some of the Best of 2020’ spectacular should do well in getting you through the evening. I’m to understand we’ll be breaking travel protocols myself, so if I get the plague that is even as we speak ravaging my homeland, at least I will have deserved it. Firelung and whatnot.

Thanks for listening and reading. New art coming soon.

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

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 12.25.20

Elephant Tree Bird Habits
Pallbearer Vengeance & Ruination Forgotten Days
Tony Reed Might Just Funeral Suit
Grayceon This Bed MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES
All Them Witches 41 Nothing as the Ideal
VT
Brant Bjork Cleaning out the Ashtray Brant Bjork
Soldati From Skulls Doom Nacional
Backwoods Payback God Smack VA – Alice in Chains Dirt: Redux
High Priestess The Hourglass Casting the Circle
Curse the Son Black Box Warning Excruciation
Elder Halcyon Omens
Black Rainbows Master Rocket Power Blast Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
Dirt Woman Fades to Greed The Glass Cliff
Polymoon Silver Moon Caterpillars of Creation
Enslaved Distant Seasons Utgard
Cinder Well Fallen No Summer
Geezer Drowning on Empty Groovy
Ruff Majik Lead Pills and Thrills The Devil’s Cattle

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Jan. 8 (subject to change). Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Metal website

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SonicBlast Fest 2021 Adds John Garcia, All Them Witches, Causa Sui and More

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 25th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Hey, it could happen. The vaccines could work and be properly distributed, and with social-distancing guidelines still in place and accounted for in the festival’s venue choice, SonicBlast Fest 2021 could very well take place next August. I think we all know the first lineup announcement comes with a big ol’ asterisk in terms of “well this is how it’s gonna go if the plague hasn’t swallowed us whole by then,” but with that caveat, it’s awfully nice to see a lineup announcement from a festival at all, let alone one that already has a bunch of cool bands set to play. Maybe Europe’s borders will be open to Americans next August. That’d be a dream come true.

SonicBlast of course did the virtual thing this year, as many other fests have done, and the fest’s YouTube still has a few killer performances up, including the one from South Africa’s Ruff Majik that you can see at the bottom of this post.

Tickets are available and I have to believe it’ll sell out:

sonicblast-fest-2021

SonicBlast Fest 2021: Aug 12-14

SonicBlast Fest is back!

We are so happy to welcome John Garcia & The Band of Gold and Psychlona among many others to announce soon

In 2021 we celebrated the 10th edition in a new enclosure, with a strong poster and we couldn’t be more satisfied!

Months and months of work arduous and several contradictions along the way, our priority was always to try to secure a good poster for this special edition and find an enclosure with the characteristics needed for this great celebration. And we did it!

The 10th edition of 10 takes place at Praia da Dune do Cauldron in Anchor (Walk), in a dream framing and in a compound that will have the same capacity but features a much greater area, ensuring your comfort and safety when travelling in August 2021 to the Anchor region for this celebration. Thank you in advance to Caminha Município for your help in finding the new location keeping it in our county, and Junta de Freguesia de Âncora and Âncora Praia Futebol Clube for the enthusiasm and availability to welcome SonicBlast Fest.

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Line up, so far:
John Garcia and the Band of Gold (usa)
All Them Witches (usa)
Brant Bjork (usa)
Witch (usa)
Causa Sui (dnk)
Bala (sp)
Psychlona (uk)
… and many more to be announced

Info Tickets:
(Portugal) Os bilhetes já estão à venda em toda a rede BOL (Lojas Fnac, Worten, Ctt’s…)
To buy your ticket online:
https://garboyl.bol.pt/Comprar/Bilhetes/92523-sonicblast_festival_2021_full_festival_ticket-garboyl_lives/Sessoes
e www.masqueticket.com

Full festival ticket:
– 50€ from 23 to 30 November
– 65€ from 1st of December to 31st of May
– 75€ from 1st of June

https://www.facebook.com/events/193315945704188/
https://www.facebook.com/sonicblastmoledo/
https://www.instagram.com/sonicblast_fest

Ruff Majik, Live at SonicBlast Online 2020


https://sonicblastmoledo.com/

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Heavy Psych Sounds Opens US Webshop; Announces Copious Represses

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

heavy psych sounds blue logo

Is it a a coincidence that Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds has just opened an official US webshop in the wake of earlier-2020’s All That is Heavy fallout and announced a slew of vinyl repress preorders for the likes of Brant Bjork, Duel, High Reeper, Nebula and Crypt Trip? Likely not, you astute observer of business practices, you. The Duel and High Reeper LPs have new covers — you’ll note Duel swapped out red for blue; that cover still rules — and that the latter also features two bonus tracks including a Pentagram cover. So that’s nifty. Plus limited runs for the others and Brant Bjork‘s Jacoozzi and Jalamanta (some records you can never have too many of) and Nebula‘s classic To the Center makes it a busy week for the label. Nothing like a trial by fire for that new store.

Speaking of, I clicked the link below. I’m not going to say I regret it, but my wallet might. You’ll find shirts and recent releases, upcoming stuff and basically a slew of CDs I want. So it goes.

Link and info came from the label:

heavy psych sounds represses

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS UNITED STATES BASED SHOP

START SHOPPING HERE: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop-usa

Our new warehouse is located in San Antonio, Texas and starting from today you can find a selection of our old catalog, our latest releases, part of the merch catalog and you can start to preorder the upcoming releases.

We just shipped small amounts for each edition of each title so possibly some of them will be shortly not available, but we will start shipping more stock on regular basis. We are only at the beginning so we are planning to make things bigger and bigger and deliver you the full catalog of records and merch asap, this has been a big step for us and we are so stoked to made this happen.

For those who want to purchase any title or merch still not available at the US shop you can keep buying from the dear old shop – we will deliver you fast as usual from the dear old warehouse!! Thanks a lot to Paul Huff our new sales and logistic manager for the US territory.

From monday 26th to thursday 29th we are having the HPS REPRESS WEEK:

MONDAY – 26th
NEBULA – To The Center – same cover – released in 150 LTD 3 COLORS STRIPED blue/white/red VINYL + BLACK VINYL

TUESDAY 27th
CRYPT TRIP – Rootstock – new cover – released in 150 LTD HALF-HALF red/orange VINYL + BLACK VINYL

WEDNESDAY 28th
HIGH REEPER – High Reeper – new cover + 2 bonus tracks !!! – 150 LTD SIDE A – SIDE B blue/purple VINYL + BLACK VINYL + digipak

High Reeper has 2 new bonus tracks: World Weaver (new bonus track) 2:06 and Hurricane (Pentagram Cover – new bonus track) 2:03
+
DUEL – Fears Of The Dead – new cover – 150 LTD 3 COLORS STRIPED blue/yellow/orange + BLACK VINYL

THURSDAY 29th
BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta – 150 LTD 3 COLORS STRIPED green/yellow/purple/ VINYL
BRANT BJORK – Jacoozzi – 150 LTD SIDE A – SIDE B yellow/red VINYL

PRESALE for all 4 represses STARTS: October 29th
RELEASE DATE for all 4 represses: January 11th

https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
https://instagram.com/heavypsychsounds_records/
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

High Reeper, Live at Sonic Blast Online 2020

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Brant Bjork Announces Spring 2021 European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 24th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Brant Bjork

You’ll note the tour announcement begins with a question. That’s the state of everything, right there. Yeah, it would be awesome if Brant Bjork can get back abroad and start up the touring cycle again, do the thing, see the people, all of that. What’s the state of the world next Spring? I have no idea. Will this tour happen? I have no idea. I have no idea about anything. Now or then. But I give points for trying and I’m happy to post a list of tour dates, so here we are.

Brant Bjork and his band will be out with Sweden’s MaidaVale, as was the plan for earlier this Spring, which unfortunately was the moment at which all plans for any and everything went out the window. Interesting to note about the rescheduled shows that Desertfest Berlin 2021 is currently slated for May 13-16, so if Bjork is going to get announced for that bill, it would be as an added final date of this tour. Desertfest London 2021 is April 30-May 2, so presumably if Bjork is to play that, it would be on May 1, which is open on the list below. Both were stops on the tour that was supposed to happen earlier this year, so it would make sense.

Presented by Sound of Liberation, as one would expect. Word came from the socials:

brant bjork euro tour spring 2021

BRANT BJORK – Europe 2021

2021 Will Be Our Year, Right?!

We certainly F*ing hope so. Brant and band are crossing their fingers a lot these days. Are they practicing a slick new guitar move?! Maybe yes, but it’s also hoping they can come and play in Europe next Spring! We got the dates, We got the old jams, We got new jams, We got the incredible Maidavale on board again. You got to get your tickets, You got something to look forward to, You gotta wait just a while longer. You gotta stay healthy until then.

04.23 Dortmund* Piano
04.24 Aschaffenburg* Colos-Saal
04.25 Linz* Stadtwerkstatt
04.26 Graz* PPC
04.27 Vienna* Arena
04.28 Erlangen* E-Werk
04.29 Stuttgart* Universum
04.30 Nijmegen* Doornroosje
05.02 Groningen* Vera
05.03 Amsterdam* Melkweg
05.04 Sint-Niklaas* De Casino
05.05 Paris* Petit Bain
05.06 Toulouse* Le Rex
05.07 Vitoria Helldorado
05.08 Madrid Kristonfest
05.09 Barcelona Wolf
05.11 Monthey* Pont Rouge
05.12 Winterthur* Gaswerk
05.13 Munich* Feierwerk
05.14 Dresden* Beatpol
05.15 Hamburg* Knust
* with MaidaVale

https://www.facebook.com/BrantBjorkOfficial
https://www.instagram.com/brant_bjork
http://www.brantbjork.com
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS
http://www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com

Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork (2020)

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Review & Track Premiere: Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork brant bjork

[Click play above to stream ‘Cleaning Out the Ashtray’ from Brant Bjork’s Brant Bjork. Digital release is May 9 followed by physical pressings May 29 on Heavy Psych Sounds. Preorders are here.]

Brant Bjork is no stranger to setting his own direction and his own standard. For over 20 years, he has explored songwriting in various forms and in league with various players — some backing, some collaborating, some purely as part of a live dynamic — but all the while, Bjork has developed and continued to pursue an inimitable style drawing from the tonal weight and presence of heavy rock and the laid back sensibility that’s come to be a defining aspect of Californian desert sound in large part because of his own efforts.

The standard on Brant Bjork, his 13th full-length and latest in a continuing and thus-far-fruitful partnership with Heavy Psych Sounds, would seem to be conveyed right in the opener “Jungle in the Sound,” and the message is relatively straightforward. It needs a little funk, a little boogie, something rhythmic and intangible. Bjork has rarely shied away from engaging race in his work — all the way back to 2003’s Keep Your Cool (reissue review here), which opened with “Hey, Monkey Boy,” up through more recent efforts like 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) — but “Jungle in the Sound” feels directly in conversation with “Chocolatize” from 2018’s Mankind Woman (review here).

Bootsy’s Rubber Band had “Jungle Bass” in 1979, and Parliament had Chocolate City in 1975, so the history of African-American music he’s engaging with is front-and-center, literally at the fore of the album(s). Mankind Woman record was Bjork‘s last proper studio outing and first for Heavy Psych Sounds following 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) on Napalm Records — though the archival Jacoozzi (review here) also surfaced in 2019 — and if the self-titled is speaking to or building off of it in some ways, it’s only fair enough ground for Bjork to cover. And certainly the advent of Brant Bjork‘s Brant Bjork, the sheer fact that 21 years on from his debut solo record, one of desert rock’s most crucial figures would decide to put out an album bearing his own name, is neither happenstance nor an inconsiderable move to make. Once again, he sets his own standard.

He also, fortunately for his generations-spanning fanbase, lives up to it.

Brant Bjork runs an unpretentious-as-ever eight tracks and 37 minutes, and reads like a missive/check-in from that particular otherworld that Bjork‘s music seems to inhabit: a place where no one has to ask if you’ve ever been experienced because the assumption is, yeah, you have. Also you might be stoned. In part, what distinguishes this collection particularly from Mankind Woman, on which he collaborated directly with guitarist Bubba DuPree (Void) in songwriting and brought in the likes of recurring guest vocalist Sean Wheeler to contribute, as well as Tao of the Devil and Black Power Flower before it, is that Bjork recorded all of the instruments on this collection himself. It is a true solo outing.

With recording/mixing by Yosef Sanborn in Joshua Tree and mastering by the esteemed John McBain (ex-Monster Magnet), Bjork establishes his standard readily and sets out on his path with “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and “Jesus Was a Bluesman,” an obviously purposeful pairing that talks about faith in a way I can’t remember Bjork having done before, taking dogmatic figureheads and making them characters in his universe. Jesus, a traveling mystic, becomes a bluesman going from town to town to preach. Mary arrives with a sleek groove as though she might be played (gloriously, no doubt) by circa-1974 Pam Grier. And of course, that song might also be about weed.

Brant Bjork

If the theme that ties these songs together thus far is an underlying sense of honesty, or trying to make sense of experience, then “Cleaning Out the Ashtray” — the metaphor being the ashtray of one’s life — is all the more appropriate as a follow-up. The longest cut at 6:35, it boasts the standout line, “Baby all the love you’re looking for is right in front of you,” and a signature, warm-toned solo that reminds not only of best times, but of how refreshing that “clean ashtray” can feel. Side A could hardly ask for a better finish than riding out the midsection jam back to the chorus and a subtle build of fuzz behind the steady beat carrying the nod forward, mellow but not at all absent from the moment, a last crash sounding particularly ready for the stage.

“Duke of Dynamite” is a swinger. It would almost have to be, right? But it is, and it brings to mind the balance Bjork strikes throughout Brant Bjork between the intimacy of a solo record — for sure the acoustic closer “Been So Long” speaks to that, as does the absence of a longer instrumental jam, which is something the last few LPs have featured — and his virtuosity in conveying a full-band feel. He’s playing everything here. Marking his own pace on drums, building up bass and guitar, and adding his own vocals, all the while realizing an aesthetic vision of the songs.

It’s not the first time he’s done it, and after over two decades of working solo, never mind his time in KyussFu Manchu, etc., it’s not a surprise he can pull it off, but it remains impressive. Where “Cleaning Out the Ashtray” comforted with its solo, “Duke of Dynamite” provides a short bit scorch, and rides easy into the speedier “Shitkickin’ Now,” which with lines like, “Left the scene but it followed me/Kept it clean but it followed me,” and so on, could easily be read as autobiographical, but still holds its laid back feel, with the drums deep in the mix and the vocals delivered in such a way as to play up the boogie as much as, if not more than, the punkish undercurrent.

That leaves “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” (6:31) as the grand finale ahead of the quiet capper, and rather than blow it out, Bjork keeps it abidingly cool, with a heavy roll drawing toward a languid flow that’s so much his own it might as well bear his name — oh wait — and a subtle but nigh-on-perfect lead-in for “Been So Long.” The shift in approach at the end reminds of 2006’s Tres Dias (review here) in its guy-and-guitar minimalism, and it underscores the root effectiveness of Brant Bjork‘s songwriting, which, though it’s a point that’s been made all across the album before it, finds its punctuation welcome nonetheless.

For Brant Bjork fans, the return to a solo methodology will speak to some of his older work, specifically his now-classic debut, 1999’s Jalamanta (discussed herealso here). But even for those who haven’t followed him on his winding journey through the desert over a period of years and decades, for newer listeners or someone taking it on after hearing perhaps some of Heavy Psych Sounds‘ catalog reissues, Brant Bjork successfully captures what snared those longtime fans in the first place. And most importantly, it does so without pretending the last 20 years didn’t happen. It is honest, it is genuine, and it is singular.

Brant Bjork on Thee Facebooks

Brant Bjork on Instagram

Brant Bjork website

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Heavy Psych Sounds website

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

 

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Stoned and Dusted 2020 Announces Lineup with Corrosion of Conformity, Los Dug Dugs, Masters of Reality, Brant Bjork, Earthless & Many More

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

stoned and dusted 2020 banner

So let me get this out of the way and say that the whole friggin’ Stoned and Dusted 2020 lineup is incredible. Kudos to the California Desert Wizards Association, which is the mysterious entity putting on the festival out in the Mojave, both at Pappy and Harriet’s and in the open air itself, taking place outside with camping and all the rest of it. Whole thing, great job. Okay. But seriously, at the first night of the thing, they’ve got Los Dug Dugs from Mexico City playing, and if you’ve never dug-dug into their stuff, it’s yet another lost classic of the heavy ’70s that’s begging to be heard. That’s an impressive get through and through. Nicely done.

Now, onto the rest. Yawning ManBrant BjorkCorrosion of ConformityMasters of RealityDead MeadowEarthlessMos GeneratorBig Scenic Nowhere, The Well. The inclusion of all of the last three I assume means that Tony Reed of Mos Generator and Ian Graham and Lisa Alley of The Well will take part in the Big Scenic Nowhere set — could be a package tour in the making there — and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect Mario Lalli might be on hand to play bass either, as Yawning Man will be playing the first night.

Toss in Hippie Death CultHelms AleeThe Heavy EyesBALAJesika von RabbitSean WheelerHammer of the Ozz and a few more TBA, not to mention Mad Alchemy doing the lights, and you’ve got a three-night desert party that’s very, very clearly going to be something special for those fortunate enough to be there to witness it.

To that end, tickets go on sale Saturday, as per the PR wire:

STONED AND DUSTED 2020 LINEUP

Yeah buddy! Here it comes again! Are you ready?! Finally the scoop on this year’s Stoned and Dusted party, brought to you by your California Desert Wizards Association.

In 2020 we have THREE NIGHTS of fun: Friday May 22nd; Saturday May 23rd; and Sunday May 24th.

STONED AND DUSTED WELCOME PARTY: On Friday May 22 we have a very special lineup at California’s most famous cantina, Pappy & Harriet’s. Friday’s show is on the indoor stage and we are proud to present 1970’s psych legends from Mexico City, Los Dug Dugs, with desert legends Yawning Man and more TBA.

STONED AND DUSTED ROADHOUSE: On Saturday May 23 we are doing it up again at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace (outside stage), our favorite dusty, desert roadhouse. Pack your earplugs, rolling papers and bring a designated driver for this insane lineup: Corrosion of Conformity, Masters of Reality, Brant Bjork, Helms Alee, BALA and a late show inside from Jesika von Rabbit.

STONED AND DUSTED CAMPOUT: On Sunday May 24 we invite you to a generator party – a Memorial Day concert, cookout and campout at a secret desert location. You can camp on site and party with your friends and fellow desert wizards late into the night. The boulders are there; we are bringing the rock! Dead Meadow, Earthless, Big Scenic Nowhere, The Well, The Heavy Eyes, Mos Generator, Sean Wheeler Y Los Caminos, Hippie Death Cult and Hammer of the Ozz. The Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show will light up the desert once again this year.

General on-sale begins late this Saturday night, Feb 8, around midnight into Sunday morning. Go to our website and join our email list for more information.

STONED AND DUSTED PRE-PARTY $22
STONED AND DUSTED ROADHOUSE $60
STONED AND DUSTED CAMPOUT $230

For the STONED AND DUSTED CAMPOUT, we also offer a camping gear add-on for those who can’t fly with a tent and want to camp out under desert skies.

https://www.facebook.com/StonedandDusted/
https://www.instagram.com/stonedanddusted
www.StonedAndDusted.com
http://www.californiadesertwizardsassociation.com/

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 27

Posted in Radio on January 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk show banner

As I sit and type this, I just recorded (on my phone, because professionalism!) the voice tracks for this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio, and in the first of them I tried and probably failed to explain that the show’s moving. Instead of every other week on Friday at 1PM Eastern (which it is now), it’s going to be every week, Friday 5PM Eastern. New episodes will still be every other week, but it’s a dedicated spot to The Obelisk Show and that’s that. The Sunday replays will still air. Bullet points:

– Starting Feb. 14.
– Airing every week, Friday 5PM, plus Sundays at 7PM
– New episodes every other week
– Listen to The Obelisk Show at Gimmeradio.com or on the app.
– Thank you

Probably should’ve written that out before I tried explaining it off the cuff on the show itself. So it goes.

There’s a ton of killer, killer, killer new music in this episode, so, you know, business as usual. I know I’m biased. Anyone who says they’re not is playing pretend. I was glad to include new Goblinsmoker here, which I haven’t had the chance to write about yet, as well as Insect ArkThe RiverGrandpa Jack and Godthrymm. Look out for a full stream of the OZO record next Tuesday, if you like what you hear in the title-cut.

Which, of course, I hope you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 1PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Thanks if you check it out.

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 01.31.20

Lowrider Red River Refractions*
Elephant Tree Sails Habits*
Brant Bjork Jungle in the Sound Brant Bjork*
Big Scenic Nowhere Glim Visions Beyond Horizon*
BREAK
Orbiter Bone to Earth The Deluge*
Sleepwulf Misty Mountain Misty Mountain*
Grandpa Jack Imitation Trash Can Boogie*
Dirt Woman Lady of the Dunes The Glass Cliff*
BREAK
Goblinsmoker Let Them Rot A Throne in Haze, a World Ablaze*
Insect Ark Philae The Vanishing*
The River Vessels Vessels into White Tides*
Deathwhite Further From Salvation Grave Image*
Godthrymm The Sea as My Grave Reflections*
BREAK
SEA Dust Impermanence*
OZO Saturn Saturn*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Feb. 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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