Review: Various Artists, Live in the Mojave Desert, Vols. 1-5

Posted in Reviews on April 13th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

live in the mojave desert 1-5

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A rundown:

Earthless, Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 1

earthless live in the mojave desert
(stream review here)

The crazy thing about this series — or one of the crazy things, anyhow — is that if it had been just¬† Looking for an awesome writing service? http://in-sight.symrise.com/?the-cheapest-essay-writing-service from Ultius and get 24/7 customer support and only the most professional work. We are 100% American! Earthless, that probably would’ve been enough to be staggering. Admittedly, it is difficult to hear the audio from bassist¬† get more to get the grade you need and pass the course without unnecessary stress. We Mike Eginton, drummer¬† Mario Rubalcaba and the aforementioned¬†Isaiah Mitchell and not think of the desert at night being lit up by the¬†Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show, drones flying overhead as trippy lights flash and shift with the music, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.¬†Earthless¬†played three songs — “Violence of the Red Sea,” “Sonic Prayer” and “Lost in the Cold Sun” — and that’s enough to make their release the only 2LP of the¬†Live in the Mojave Desert¬†set, topping out at about 77 minutes, with the entirety of sides C and D dedicated to “Lost in the Cold Sun”‘s 39-minute sprawl.

There’s a reason¬†Earthless were the headliners for this thing, and it’s because there’s no one else who has the same instrumental dynamic they bring to the stage — or sand, as it were — and because if you’re going for “epic” as a standard, they’re the band you call. Will¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 1 replace¬†Live at Roadburn 2008¬†(discussed here) as the band’s supreme live-recorded statement? I don’t know, but it sure sounds incredible. “Sonic Prayer” comes through with due sense of worship and “Lost in the Cold Sun” fuzzy grace feels like the kind of thing a future generation might think of as classic rock. Watching, it was easy to get lost in the show, follow the head-spinning turns of guitar atop the ultra-sure foundation of bass and drums, and listening, it’s the same. With an exquisite mix and a vital performance, it’s every bit the best-case-scenario for what¬†Live in the Mojave Desert could and should be.

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Nebula, Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 2

nebula live in the mojave desert
(stream review here)

With Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 2, I consider Nebula‘s comeback complete. The band reformed in 2017, hit the road hard, and in 2019 offered up the return studio full-length, Holy Shit! (review here), and toured again for as long as that option was available. They have new material in the works too, and what’s most striking about the trio’s performance the 10-song/48-minute set here is how characteristic it sounds. Drummer Mike Amster (also¬†Mondo Generator, etc.) and bassist¬†Tom Davies strap the listener down while founding guitarist/vocalist¬†Eddie Glass takes off to the center of the universe, and amid classics like that opener,¬†Holy Shit!¬†cuts like “Messiah,” “Let’s Get Lost,” “Man’s Best Friend” and the new song “Wall of Confusion” fit right in. There’s never a doubt, never a question of who you’re hearing. Even the sloppiest moments are pure¬†Nebula.

That’s what they’ve always been — part punk, part heavy psych, part pure go — and¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 2¬†brings that to bear without question. As a follow-up to¬†Holy Shit!¬†as well as the band’s second sanctioned live recording behind 2008’s¬†Peel Session, it captures their inimitable sonic persona and the sense of chaos that their material always seems to carry, like it’s all about to come apart at any second and if it did, fuck it anyway, you’re the one with the problem. It never does come apart here, which I guess is to the band’s credit as well, but this set is nonetheless a full expression of who¬†Nebula are as a group. Now get to work on that next record.

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Spirit Mother, Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 3

spirit mother live in the mojave desert

(stream review here)

If one might think of including Spirit Mother in the series as a risk, the risk was mild at best, and as the first of two bands representing a next generation of California’s heavy underground, the Long Beach troupe more than acquitted themselves well in their relatively brief 10-song/33-minute showing.¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 3¬†basks in the violin-conjured atmospheres of the four-piece’s debut album,¬†Cadets (review here), and wants nothing for impact to complement that ethereal sensibility. Their songs are short, and that gives them a kind of proto-grunge edge, and the vocals of bassist¬†Armand Lance, who shares those duties with violinist¬†SJ, add drug-punkish urgency to the procession of one song into the next.

For a band coming off their first album, they are intricate in aesthetic in ways that might surprise new listeners, and that’s exactly why they feature behind¬†Nebula¬†in this series. Hearing them dig into “Black Sheep” and “Martyrs” and “Dead Cells” on¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 3¬†is the best argument I can think of in favor of signing the band for their next studio release, and if¬†Heavy Psych Sounds¬†doesn’t, someone else surely will. Not trying to tell anyone their business, of course, but¬†Spirit Mother¬†are happening one way or another. That combination of air, earth, and fuzz is too good to leave out.

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Stöner, Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 4

Stöner live in the mojave desert

(stream review here)

Aired fifth but billed almost inevitably as¬†Vol. 4, the unveiling of St√∂ner, the new trio from Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri with Ryan Gut (also of the former’s solo band) on drums was a bonus to the¬†Live in the Mojave Desert. On-again-off-again collaborators across decades,¬†Bjork¬†and¬†Oliveri nestled into mostly laid-back, stripped down grooves, their stated purpose in going back to the roots of the sound they helped create in the first place. The¬†Kyuss-ness of the central riff of opener “Rad Stays Rad” is no less demonstration of their having done so than the driving punk of the¬†Oliveri-fronted “Evel Never Dies.” The vibe is nostalgic in that song, as well as “Rad Stays Rad,” the gleefully funked “Stand Down,” and “The Older Kids,” but if St√∂ner¬†is about looking back at this point, they’re doing so with fresh eyes.

To wit, “Own Yer Blues,” “Nothin’,” and the 13-minute mint-jam finale “Tribe/Fly Girl” are more endemic of who these players have become than who they were in the early ’90s or before, and that applies to “Stand Down” too.¬†Bjork‘s vocals sound double-tracked on some of the parts (or at least close delay), but he and Oliveri work well together as one would expect, and as a reveal for what these guys had come up with in renewing their collaboration,¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 4¬†offers seven memorable songs that would make anything more seem unnecessarily fancied up. If their calling card is that rad stays rad, they prove it. And I know he’s not the top bill in the trio with Bjork‘s flow and Oliveri‘s bass tone, but¬†Gut‘s contributions here aren’t to be understated.

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Stoner website

Mountain Tamer, Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 5

mountain tamer live in the mojave desert

(stream review here)

Second only to St√∂ner in curiosity factor, L.A. trio Mountain Tamer have always held a darker edge in their sound, and that comes through in the brash 36 minutes, shouts and screams echoing out over fuzzed garage metal in a fuckall that’s punk in attitude but angrier in its underlying core. Guitarist/vocalist¬†Andrew Hall, bassist¬†Dave Teget and drummer Casey Garcia are the kind of band who open the show and sell the most merch when they’re done. The elements they’re working with are familiar and have been all along in their decade together and across their three LPs — the latest of them, 2020‚Äôs¬†Psychosis Ritual¬†(review here), was released by¬†Heavy Psych Sounds — but more even than in their studio work,¬†Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 5¬†brought to light just how much their own their sound really is.

Whether languid as in “Chained” or “Black Noise” or furious as in “Warlock” and “Living in Vain,”¬†Mountain Tamer give¬†Nebula a run for their money in terms of chaos, and easily make for the most pissed off listen of the bunch in¬†Live in the Mojave Desert. The relative roughness of their edge suits them, however, and the rampant echo on the guitar assures there’s still a spacious sound to act as counterbalance to all that thrashing and gnashing. If you can call it balance, I don’t know, but it works for them and they wield their sound as knife more than bludgeon when it comes to it.

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Live in the Mojave Desert Vol. 1-5 teaser

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Album Review: Yawning Sons, Sky Island

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

yawning sons sky island

It is no small task to separate Sky Island — the title referring to the phenomenon of higher-altitude forests on mountains in deserts, as depicted on the front cover — from the context of its predecessor. Issued in 2009 through Lexicon Devil, the first Yawning Sons album was Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), also reissued by Alone Records on vinyl (review here) in 2014. At the core of the release was the collaboration between UK progressive instrumentalists Sons of Alpha Centauri — bassist Nick Hannon, guitarist Marlon King, drummer Stevie B.(Kyle Hanson is also credited with drums) and noisemaker Blake — and founding Yawning Man guitarist¬†Gary Arce. The two parties recorded together for a week in England and enlisted for vocalists a sampling of some of the Californian desert underground’s finest, including¬†Arce‘s bandmate¬†Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson), as well as¬†Wendy Rae Fowler (Mark Lanegan Band,¬†Arce‘s¬†WaterWays project) and¬†Scott Reeder (Kyuss,¬†The Obsessed, etc.). To call the results striking is to undersell the quality of the work. I have said before and will probably say again that¬†Ceremony to the Sunset is one of the best desert rock albums ever made, and I stand by that assessment.

The project has been likened to¬†Desert Sessions, the show-up-at-the-studio-and-make-a-record project helmed by¬†Josh Homme. This is incorrect.¬†Yawning Sons are entirely more cohesive, and that’s even clearer on the¬†Ripple Music-issued Sky Island than what’s now to be thought of as the debut. Though¬†Lalli,¬†Fowler and¬†Reeder, as well as¬†Dandy Brown (Hermano,¬†Orquesta del Desierto) and¬†Sons of Alpha Centauri‘s Marlon King add their own personalities to their respective offerings —¬†Brown gets two, which is earned in his performance in them — they do so upon a largely consistent bed of desert-hued heavy psych, marked out by Yawning Sons‘ steady rhythms,¬†Arce‘s signature tone, and a remarkable instrumental flow. They are guests, and the appearances they make comprise a part of the substance of¬†Sky Island, not the whole. That is emphasized in “Passport Beyond the Tides” and “Limitless Artifact,” the two sans-vocal tracks that end sides A and B, respectively. At the same time,¬†Sky Island seems conscious of the standard it’s engaging.¬†Reeder, who would seem to have recorded his own backing track at least in part, tops “Digital Spirit” in harmony that feels like a direct sequel to “Garden Sessions III” and¬†Fowler‘s “Shadows and Echoes,” which leads off side B, effectively channels the spaciousness of “Ghostship – Deadwater” while remaining more grounded.

Still,¬†Sky Island offers more than answer-back or a retread.¬†King‘s contribution to opener “Adrenaline Rush” is enough to make one wonder how Sons of Alpha Centauri have stayed instrumental for so long. I might have switched them it with “Gravity Underwater” the running order, but “Adrenaline Rush” is catchier and that would’ve put Dandy Brown‘s two tracks next to each other, so there are arguments to be made in “Adrenaline Rush”‘s favor as well. Its lyrical narrative, hunting for treasure, seeking out the next titular rush, and so on, is an immediate push on the conception of desert psych as laid back, as well as much of the flow that follows, but it still works sonically, and exemplifies the fact that Yawning Sons don’t¬†need anyone other than themselves to make a track with vocals work. Does that mean a third LP is coming without guests? I have no idea. But the potential is there and apparently has been all along. That they follow “Adrenaline Rush” with the¬†Brown-fronted “Low in the Valley” (as noted) positions them squarely in the desert, and Mario Lalli‘s “Cigarette Footsteps” — the longest inclusion at 8:32 — follows an ethereal narrative that is an outbound joy of sung weirdo poetry and mellow psych,¬†Arce‘s guitar ringing out like the call to prayer it is, a solid but likewise exploratory rhythm happening beneath, never quite hitting the same surge as “Low in the Valley” does when the bass comes forward in its second half, but offering flashes of its own lumber and bolstering the atmosphere in a manner that gives way fluidly to the keyboard intro of “Passport Beyond the Tides.”

yawning sons

That keyboard itself feels different, and is plainly meant to, but makes a fitting complement to the meandering guitar as the longer half of the tracklist rounds out. Interesting that “Adrenaline Rush” and “Passport Beyond the Tides” were recorded in the UK, while the bulk of¬†Sky Island was done at Desert Sky Studios in Joshua Tree, California — the Reeder-topped piece aside. One wonders when those recordings took place, if it was 2019 or earlier. In any case, the inherent differentiation in them only broadens the scope of¬†Sky Island as a whole, and that’s something that “Shadows and Echoes” and “Digital Spirit” benefit from as the album moves gracefully into side B with¬†Fowler‘s echoing lines living up to the intangible nature of her song’s title.¬†Reeder too, come to think of it. Both pieces are short, but effective. Toms and hand percussion back “Digital Spirit” as the guitar and vocals take forward position,¬†Reeder referencing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the lyrics in a way that feels grounding but is transposed into the melancholy of the melody just the same. That leaves “Gravity Underwater” as the final vocalized cut, and it comes through as a return for¬†Yawning Sons — which in itself is fascinating, since so much of what they’ve done as a group has been based around this open collaboration with others.

Simply put, Brown tops “Gravity Underwater” like he belongs there. Able to work in the more open-feeling structure,¬†especially in the later playfulness that comes after the hook, but still following his own course, capable and genuine-feeling in emotional conveyance. Layers back as they push into the second half of the track, and it’s not an instrumental shove that serves as the apex of Sky Island, but that warm-night melody and ambience itself. It carries into the seven-minute “Limitless Artifact,” which caps, again, without vocals, feeling like a parting gift from¬†Arce and¬†Sons of Alpha Centauri and also a last emphasis on what serves as the foundation of the project in the first place. More than a worthy successor, what this second Yawning Sons album does is demonstrate the sustainability of the group. It features elements that are familiar from the debut, the encore guest performances among them, but it also puts forth their most straight-ahead songwriting in “Adrenaline Rush” and a palpable sense of growth as a unit in the experimentalism of “Passport Beyond the Tides,” as well as the sheer flow of “Low in the Valley” and “Cigarette Footsteps,” putting the listener exactly where the band — yeah, a band — want them to be. I won’t speculate on what the future of¬†Yawning Sons might bring, if anything, but the vitality of what they do in these songs professes loudly to forward potential. They may yet have more to say, whatever, whenever, if ever, they choose to say it. 2021 is lucky to have¬†Sky Island in the meantime.

Yawning Sons, Sky Island (2021)

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Earthless Finish Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 12th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Among the hashtags accompanying Earthless‘ social media post this morning saying they’ve finished the tracking for their next studio LP are “#kombuchabenefits,” “#moaning” and “#pain.” These sound like the makings of a good record.

The trio recorded at¬†Singing Serpent Studios in their native San Diego, and will release the album I guess whenever they’re good and ready to hit the road to support it through¬†Nuclear Blast Records. One likes to imagine the band triumphantly returning to the stage heralding a rebirth of live heavy music with themselves installed as statesmen of the cause, but hell’s bells, the world can be unkind to such optimism.

Earthless‘ last album was 2018’s Black Heaven (review here), which combined the instrumental sprawl on which much of their reputation of a live act is based — see also their ‘Live in the Mojave Desert’ stream/live record (review here) — with more forward, classically-structured songwriting. What does their fifth record hold? I don’t know. Guitar solos? Killer drums and basslines? It’s fucking¬†Earthless. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself, the plague, and everything else. New¬†Earthless you don’t have to fear.

But really guys, what are the benefits of kombucha?

Guess we’ll find out.

Here’s what they had to say, short and sweet:

earthless

So it’s the wee hours of Sunday right now. We just wanna say that we have finished all the tracking, overdubs and seasonings for what will be our 5th studio album. We are very stoked to get this one out to you all. Big thanks to Ben Moore, Dean Reis and Singing Serpent Studios for an awesome week of recording and Thaddeus Robles for gear loanage! It was nice to do all of this in our hometown of San Diego. More to come. Cheers. #earthless #newalbum #singingserpent #kombuchabenefits #moaning #pain

Earthless is:
Bass: Mike Eginton
Drums: Mario Rubalcaba
Guitar & Vocals: Isaiah Mitchell

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Earthless, “Sonic Prayer” snippet from Live in the Mojave Desert

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The Crooked Whispers Sign to Ripple Music

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Based in Los Angeles and Argentina, cultists The Crooked Whispers have inked a deal to release their second album as a part of Rob “Blasko” Nicholson‘s curated series through Ripple Music. Snagging the trio, who released their debut album, Satanic Melodies (review here), in the dead heat of last summer and followed up with the single “Galaxy of Terror” that you can hear below last Fall, will issue their sophomore full-length sometime later this year. They are the latest in a string of strong pickups by Ripple, and as far as Blasko‘s track record goes, dude would seem to be three for three.

I’ll hope to have more to come as we get closer to the release, but here’s the PR wire announcement in the meantime:

the crooked whispers ripple music

THE CROOKED WHISPERS – Ripple Music

L.A. psychedelic doom purveyors THE CROOKED WHISPERS sign to Ripple Music as part of special series curated by Blasko.

Ripple Music welcome satanic psych doom unit THE CROOKED WHISPERS to their ever-expanding roster, for the release of their sophomore album. This comes as the third signing as part of the special series of releases curated by Blasko.

THE CROOKED WHISPERS formed in 2020 during the global pandemic and released their debut studio album ‘Satanic Melodies’ and the ‘Galaxy of Terror / Hail Darkness’ EP through Bandcamp. The “satanic psych doom” trio is made up of musicians hailing from the United States and Argentina: Ignacio De Tommaso (Luciferica) on bass, Anthony Gaglia (L√°Goon) handling the vocals and Chad Davis (Hour of 13) on guitar.

Since then, the cult has steadily been growing around the world, sparking the interest of many fans and most notably Ozzy Osbourne bassist Blasko, who has signed them to Ripple Music under his exclusive partnership with the label for their highly anticipated sophomore release.

BLASKO comments on this new signing: “Satanic Melodies is a true cult masterpiece and I reached out to the band immediately expressing my interest in bringing them on to Ripple. I am excited to work with them and assist their efforts into what will undoubtedly be the most terrifying release of the label’s history.”

Stay tuned, as more details about their upcoming new album will be revealed soon!

THE CROOKED WHISPERS is
Ignacio De Tommaso ‚ÄĒ bass
Anthony Gaglia ‚ÄĒ vocals
Chad Davis ‚ÄĒ guitar

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The Crooked Whispers, “Galaxy of Terror”

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PostWax Announces New Releases From Acid King & Josiah

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Yeah, I knew this announcement was coming. Didn’t know when, but yes. I tried to drop hints about new Josiah in writing about the UK band’s forthcoming reissue on Heavy Psych Sounds, but I didn’t want to inadvertently give anything away. And you should note that Acid King bringing Jason Landrian aboard as part of an expanded lineup for this release kind of makes that band combined with Black Cobra, since Rafa Martinez, who drums in the latter, plays bass in the former. I do not expect the liner notes to be easy to write. I need to talk to Josiah‘s Mat Bethanourt this week and get on it before I start holding up vinyl pressing. Again. Which I probably already am.

I’m not going to try to sell you on the thing — that’s not my job — but I know a couple other of the NINE — oh my god — releases coming out as part of PostWax Vol. II, and there’s not what you’d call a “filler” in the bunch.

This came down the PR wire. Nine volumes. Oof…:

postwax year ii logo

ACID KING and JOSIAH to release new music as part of PostWax Vol. II series; Blues Funeral Recordings launches Kickstarter for exclusive vinyl subscription!

Blues Funeral Recordings have revealed stoner metal pillars ACID KING and cult heavy psych rockers JOSIAH will join the second volume of their groundbreaking PostWax vinyl subscription series. The label launched a Kickstarter on April 1st to sign up subscribers for the 9-volume project.

The PostWax series presents exclusive limited edition records from some of the best stoner rock, doom and heavy psych bands on the planet. Benefiting from a spectacular Kickstarter success in 2018, PostWax Year One debuted monster releases to subscribers first ‚ÄĒ including Elder’s “The Gold & Silver Sessions” and the seminal comeback album “Refractions” from Lowrider ‚ÄĒ which were subsequently released in standard retail versions to the public several months later.

Announced on the PostWax Vol. II series are Bay Area legends ACID KING, who are joining forces with Jason Landrian (Black Cobra) and Bryce Shelton (Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, B√§dr Vogu, High Tone Son of a Bitch) for a mind-altering soundtrack-inspired sonic journey created exclusively for this project.

PostWax Vol. II will also mark the blistering return of Britain’s the fuzz-fueled power trio JOSIAH, who are making the most of the Blues Funeral collaboration to present their first studio album in over a decade, the followup to their 2009 Eletrohasch release ‘Procession’. Fans of heavy-psych meets straight ahead riff-rock should take notice!

PostWax Vol. II will unfold as a series of 9 deluxe releases on gorgeous vinyl, with every record set to include at least one exclusive track that only those who join PostWax will ever receive. Blues Funeral also invited each band to contribute one or more riffs to a “share pool” that every other band in the series can dip into and to integrate into what they’re doing, in order to create more connectivity and shared DNA across all the releases in the series.

View the PostWax Vol. II Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-vol-ii

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Earthless Begin Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 6th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

earthless (Photo by Atiba Jefferson)

Good news for anyone out there who likes good news, as Earthless have entered the studio to begin recording the follow-up to 2018’s Black Heaven (review here), which will release sometime presumably later this year through Nuclear Blast Records as their second offering through the label.

The trio that spawned a thousand riffs also recently took part in the ‘Live in the Mojave Desert’ (review here) streaming series and have released a 2LP version of their set therefrom that is the latest in a long line of essential Earthless live recordings. Nonetheless, as a studio album from the band doesn’t come along as often, it’s to be considered a special occasion that they have one in the works.

Conditions and case-numbers permitting, one might just see a list of tour dates coming soon from the band, even if those dates are for the Fall or next Spring. The three-piece normally hit the road pretty hard, especially behind a new album, so how that before-time ethic might translate into current reality remains to be seen. Nonetheless, one hopes for an opportunity to catch the band in what’s long been established as their element sometime soon — though as much as their reputation is as a live act, Black Heaven brought new personality to their studio work and one likewise hopes their next offering will continue to build on that.

They posted the following:

Hello all, it’s been a long day- just a late night post to tell ya that we spent all day setting up and gett’n sounds and we are stoked to have officially begun recording thee 5th Earthless studio album. We are doing here at home in San Diego this time around with Ben Moore at Singing Serpent Studios РNuclear Blast will release it. More pics n’ stories n’ stuff to come. #earthless #newalbum #singingserpentstudios #nuclearblastrecords

Earthless is:
Bass: Mike Eginton
Drums: Mario Rubalcaba
Guitar & Vocals: Isaiah Mitchell

https://www.facebook.com/earthlessrips
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Earthless, “Sonic Prayer” snippet from Live in the Mojave Desert

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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 (n√© 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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Quarterly Review: Sonic Flower, Demon Head, Rakta & Deafkids, Timo Ellis, Heavy Feather, Slow Draw, Pilot Voyager, The Ginger Faye Bakers, Neromega, Tung

Posted in Reviews on April 2nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-spring-2019

Friday morning and the Spring 2021 Quarterly Review draws to a close. It’s been a good one, and though there are probably enough albums on my desktop to make it go another few days, better to quit while I’m ahead in terms of not-being-so-tired-I’m-angry-at-everything-I’m-hearing. In any case, as always, I hope you found something here you enjoy. I have been pleasantly surprised on more than a few occasions, especially by debuts.

We wrap with more cool stuff today and since I’m on borrowed time as it is, let me not delay.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Sonic Flower, Rides Again

sonic flower rides again

Like Church of Misery‘s groove but feel kind of icky with all those songs about serial killers? Legit. Say hello to Tatsu Mikami‘s Sonic Flower. Once upon a 2003, the band brought all the boogie and none of the slaughter of Tatsu‘s now-legendary Sabbathian doom rock outfit to a self-titled debut (reissue review here), and Rides Again is the lost follow-up from 2005, unearthed like so many of the early ’70s forsaken classics that clearly inspired it. With covers of The Meters and Graham Central Station, Sonic Flower makes their funky intentions plain as day, and the blowout drums and full-on fuzz they bring to those cuts as well as the five originals on the short-but-satisfying 28-minute offering is a win academically and for casual fans alike. You ain’t gonna hear “Jungle Cruise” or their take on “Earthquake” and come out complaining, is what I’m saying. This is the kind of record that makes you buy more records.

Sonic Flower on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

 

Demon Head, Viscera

demon head viscera

With Viscera, Copenhagen’s Demon Head make their debut on Metal Blade Records. It is their fourth album overall, the follow-up to 2019’s Hellfire Ocean Void (review here), and it continues the five-piece’s enduring exploration of darker places. Dramatic vocals recount grim narratives over backing instrumentals that are less doom at the outset with “Tooth and Nail” and “The Feline Smile” than goth, and atmospheric pieces like “Arrows” and “The Lupine Choir” and “A Long, Groaning Descent” and “Wreath” and certainly the closer “The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony” further the impression that Viscera, though its title conjures raw guts, is instead an elaborate entirety — if perhaps one of raw guts — and meant to be taken in its 36-minute whole. Demon Head make that LP-friendly runtime a progression down into reaches they’d not until this point gone, tapping sadness for its inherent beauty.

Demon Head on Thee Facebooks

Metal Blade Records website

 

Rakta & Deafkids, Live at Sesc Pompeia

Rakta Deafkids Live at Sesc Pompeia

Next time someone asks you what the future sounds like, you’ll have a good answer for them. Combined into a six-piece band, Brazilian outfits Rakta and Deafkids harness ambience and space-punk thrust into a sound that is born of a past that hasn’t yet happened. Their Live at Sesc Pompeia LP follows on from a 2019 two-songer, but it’s in the live performance that the spirit of this unity really shines through, and from opener/longest track (immediate points) “Miragem” through the semi-industrialized effects swirl of “Templo do Caos,” into the blower-noise dance party “Sigilo,” the weirdo-chug-jam of “Forma” and the space rock breakout “Flor de Pele” and the percussed buzz and echoing howls of “Espirais,” they are equal parts encompassing and singular. It is not to be ignored, and though there are moments that border on unlistenable, you can hear from the wailing crowd at the end that to be in that room was to witness something special. As a document of that, Live at Sesc Pompeia feels like history in the making.

Rakta on Thee Facebooks

Deafkids on Thee Facebooks

Rapid Eye Records website

 

Timo Ellis, Death is Everywhere

Timo Ellis Death is Everywhere

A madcap, weighted-but-anti-genre sensibility comes to life in supernova-experimentalist fashion throughout the four songs of Timo EllisDeath is Everywhere. The lockdown-era EP from Ellis (Netherlands, Yoko Ono, Cibo Matto, on and on) makes post-modern shenanigans out of apocalypses inner and outer, and from lines like “this bridal shower is bumming me out” in the unabashedly hooky “Vampire Rodeo” to “the earth will still breathe fire without you!” in “Left Without an Answer,” the stakes are high despite the flittering-in-appreciation-of-the-absurd mood of the tracks themselves. The title-track and “Evolve or Die” blend sonic heft and the experimental pop movement that “Vampire Rodeo” sets forth — the third cut is positively manic and maniacally positive — while “Left Without an Answer” almost can’t help but be consuming as it rolls into a long fade leaving intertwining vocals lines as the last to go, telling the listener to “learn to say goodbye” without making it easy. Won’t be for everyone, doesn’t want to be. Is expression for itself. Feels genuine in that, and admirable.

Timo Ellis on Thee Facebooks

Timo Ellis on Bandcamp

 

Heavy Feather, Mountain of Sugar

heavy feather mountain of sugar

With not-at-all-subtle nods to Humble Pie and Ennio Morricone in its opening tracks, Heavy Feather‘s second LP, Mountain of Sugar, has boogie to spare. No time is wasted on the 38-minute/11-track follow-up to 2019’s D√©bris & Rubble (review here), and true to the record’s title, it’s pretty sweet. The collection pits retro mindset against modern fullness in its harmonica-laced, duly-fuzzed title-track, and goes full-Fleetwood on “Come We Can Go” heading into a side B that brings a highlight in the soft-touch-stomp of “Rubble and Debris” and an earned bit of Southern-styled turn in “Sometimes I Feel” that makes a fitting companion to all the bluesy vibes throughout, particularly those of the mellow “Let it Shine” earlier. The Stockholm outfit knew what they were doing last time out too, but you can hear their process being refined throughout Mountain of Sugar, and even its most purposefully familiar aspects come across with a sense of will and playfulness.

Heavy Feather on Thee Facebooks

The Sign Records on Thee Facebooks

 

Slow Draw, Yellow & Gray

slow draw yellow and gray

Don’t tell him I told you so, but Slow Draw is starting to sound an awful lot like a band. What began as a drone/soundscaping project from Stone Machine Electric drummer/noisemaker Mark Kitchens has sprouted percussive roots of its own on Yellow & Gray, and as Kitchens explores textures of psychedelic funk, mellow heavy and even a bit of ’70s proggy homage in “Sylvia” ahead of the readily Beck-ian jam “Turntable” and acousti-drone closer “A Slow Move,” the band-vibe is rampant. I’m going to call Yellow & Gray a full-length despite the fact that it’s 24 minutes long because its eight songs inhabit so many different spaces between them, but however you want to tag it, it demonstrates the burgeoning depth of Kitchens‘ project and how it’s grown in perhaps unanticipated ways. If this is what he’s been doing in isolation — as much as Texas ever shuttered for the pandemic — his time has not been wasted.

Slow Draw on Thee Facebooks

Slow Draw on Bandcamp

 

Pilot Voyager, Nuclear Candy Bar

plot voyager nuclear candy bar

Freak! Out! The 66-minute Nuclear Candy Bar from Hungarian psychedelicists Pilot Voyager might end mostly drifting with the 27-minute “23:61,” but much of the four tracks prior to that finale are fuzz-on-go-go-go-out-out-out heavy jams, full in tone and improv spirit however planned their course may or may not actually be. To say the least, “Fuzziness” lives up to its name, as guitarist/founder √Ākos Karancz — joined by bassist Bence Ambrus (who also mastered) and drummers Kriszti√°n Megyeri and Istv√°n Baumgartner (the latter only on the closer) — uses a relatively earthbound chug as a launchpad for further space/krautrocking bliss, culminating in a scorching cacophony that’s the shortest piece on the record at just under seven minutes. If you make it past the molten heat of the penultimate title-track, there’s no turning away from “23:61,” as the first minute of that next day pulls you in from the outset, a full-length flow all unto itself. More more more, yes yes yes. Alright you get the point.

Pilot Voyager on Thee Facebooks

Psychedelic Source Records on Bandcamp

 

The Ginger Faye Bakers, Camaro

the ginger faye bakers camaro

Sit with The Ginger Faye BakersCamaro EP for a little bit. Don’t just listen to the first track, or even the second, third or fourth, on their own, but take a few minutes to put it all together. Won’t take long, the thing’s only 17 minutes long, and in so doing you’ll emerge with a more complex picture of who they are as a band. Yeah, you hear the opening title-cut and think early-Queens of the Stone Age-style desert riffing, maybe with a touch of we’re-actually-from-the-Northeast tonal thickness, but the garage-heavy of “The Creeps” feels self-aware in its Uncle Acid-style swing, and as the trio move through the swinging “The Master” and “Satan’s Helpers,” the last song drawing effectively from all sides, the totality of the release becomes all the more sinister for the relatively straight-ahead beginning just a short time earlier. Might be a listen or two before it sinks in, but they’ve found a niche for themselves here and one hopes they continue to follow where their impulses lead them.

The Ginger Faye Bakers on Thee Facebooks

The Ginger Faye Bakers on Bandcamp

 

Neromega, Nero Omega

Neromega Nero Omega

If you’re not yet keeping an eye on Regain Records offshoot Helter Skelter Productions, Rome’s Neromega are a fervent argument for doing so. The initials-only cultish five-piece are Italian as much in their style of doom as they are in geography, and across their four-song Nero Omega debut EP, they run horror organ and classic heavy rock grooves alongside each other while nodding subtly at more extreme fare like the death ‘n’ roll rumble in closer “Un Posto” or the dirt-coated low end that caps “Pugnale Ardore,” the drifting psych only moments ago quickly forgotten in favor of renewed shuffle. Eight-minute opener “Solitudine,” might be the highlight as well as the longest inclusion on the 24-minute first-showing, but it’s by no means the sum total of what the band have on offer, as they saunter through giallo, psychedelia, doom, heavy riffs and who knows what else to come, they strike an immediately individual atmospheric presence even while actively toying with familiar sounds. The EP is cohesive enough to make me wonder what their initials are.

Neromega on Thee Facebooks

Helter Skelter Productions website

 

Tung, Bleak

TUNG BLEAK

Some of the made-even-bigger-by-echo vocals from guitarist Craig Kasamis might remind of Maurice Bryan Giles from Red Fang, but Ventura, California’s Tung are up chasing down a different kind of party on 2020’s Bleak, though Kasamis, guitarist David Briceno (since replaced by Bill Bensen), bassist Nick Minasian and drummer Rob Dean have a strong current of West Coast noise rock in what they’re doing as well in “Runaway,” a lurcher like “Spit” later on or the run-till-it-crashes finisher “Fallen Crown,” which the only song apart from the bookending opener “Succession Hand” to have a title longer than a single word. Still, Tung have their own, less pop-minded take on brashness, and this debut album leaves the bruises behind to demonstrate its born-from-hardcore lineage. Their according lack of frills makes Bleak all the more effective at getting its point across, and while they’d probably tell you their sound is nothing fancy, it’s fancy enough to stomp all over your ears for about half an hour, and that’s as fancy as it needs to be. Easy to dig even in its more aggressive moments.

Tung on Thee Facebooks

Plain Disguise Records website

 

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