Review & Video Premiere: The Kings of Frog Island, VII

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on June 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

THE KINGS OF FROG ISLAND VII

[Click play above to stream the premiere of The Kings of Frog Island’s video for ‘Beyond the Void.’ New album VII is out July 30 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

It was some 13 standard earth years ago that The Kings of Frog Island issued their “Welcome to the Void” on their second album, 2008’s II (discussed here), and now, with VII, they willfully go beyond. “Beyond the Void” leads off the Leicester, UK, outfit’s new collection, VII, a stirring 10-track offering that seems to make the listener the beneficiary of a surge in productivity on the part of the band. That is to say, it was six years between 2014’s V (review here) and the release of VI (review here) in 2020, and now, less than a year later, guitarist Mark Buteux, vocalist Gavin Searle, bassist Lee Madel-Toner, drummer Roger “Dodge” Watson — plus Gavin William WrightTony Heslop and Neve Buteux — have turned around a follow-up, comprising 47 minutes of sungazing, mellow-heavy psychedelia and fuzz, melodic, unpretentious, dug in and of a style the band have now worked over the last few years to establish as their own that pulls together the various sides of their now 18-year trajectory.

The key seems to have been the band launching their own studio in Amphibia Sound Studios IV, which not only has allowed them to record more, since they’re the ones doing it and thus less subject to schedules, etc., but also to build their songs in a different way. No doubt this process was upset by the covid-19 pandemic in some way over the course of the last 15 months — easy to speculate, since everything was — but The Kings of Frog Island still sound very much like themselves, and that distinction is important because it encompasses both the catchy, straightforward underlying structure of “Blackened Soul,” the drifting post-grunge of “Dopamine” and the psych blues minimalist try-it-and-see-how-it-goes experimentalism of “SuperEgo.” Though not without a darker moment in “Empire” on side B, VII speaks of the sunshine on three tracks in a row with “Blackened Soul,” “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine,” and even “Rain” talks about stepping into the light — its hook line being, “So get out of the rain.” The penultimate “Five Hours” does its part to “hold onto the summer” as well and assures, “it’ll be alright.”

In context, it’s easy to read this as psychedelic escapism on the part of the band, and if that’s the case, it works just as fluidly for the listener. While “Beyond the Void” sets up elements like the backing vocals behind Searle and the Revolver-in-an-alternate-reality-dance-hall groove that accompanies, it’s the interplay between that track and “All the King’s Horses” immediately following that gives the audience more of a clue as to the scope of The Kings of Frog Island at this stage in their career. For the better part of two decades and across seven records of various shifts in personnel and craft, the band has worked to find a way to carry those hearing their songs along the current of the material in the manner they make sound so natural here, blending the ethereality of “All the King’s Horses” with the harder fuzz of “The Silver Arrow” while retaining a consistent identity between them. This isn’t just about tones or melodies, but the production style and the manner in which parts are layered as well. This development of the studio space as a part of the character of the group as a whole, it comes through in the material in a way that it couldn’t have before Amphibia Sound IV, and it’s helped The Kings of Frog Island to find their multi-pronged path and to walk it in kind.

the kings of frog island

“Beyond the Void” (6:12), “Empire” (5:36) and “SuperEgo” (7:43) are the only tracks on VII that top five minutes long — though “All the King’s Horses” and “Blackened Soul” come close — and though that’s more than appeared on VI, that prior album also had 10 tracks and three of them under four minutes, where VII has four. Does that speak of a burgeoning divergence between longer songs and shorter in The Kings of Frog Island‘s approach? I’ve no idea, and I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered at this point. VI was put together over a series of years, and for all I know, VII might have been sculpted out of the same ongoing sessions, but as an album, it presents as being markedly cogent in its purposes, whether a given song works fast or slow, loud or quiet. The atmosphere and mood of “Empire,” or how the song descends into its fade ahead of the burst-to-life at the start of “The Silver Arrow,” isn’t to be taken for granted. They are far from the ’90s-style, handclap-inclusive Britpsych of “Summer Sun” at that point, or even the warm rumble of “Blackened Soul,” but the easy sway of “Five Hours” helps ease the transition into “SuperEgo,” and the breadth and subtlety of that final build is a marked achievement that underlines the songwriting at work throughout the album preceding it.

I see no reason to mince words or deny that I have been and remain a fan of The Kings of Frog Island‘s output over the better part of the last two decades. What VII does is add to their list of accomplishments, push further their creative style and make it that much easier for the listener — whether a fan of long-standing or not — to roll where they roll. You don’t have to know “Welcome to the Void” to go “Beyond the Void,” and through “Blackened Soul” and “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine” and “Rain” and “Five Hours” and really the whole thing, the prevalence of vibe in their material not only stems from the depth of the mix — the way the vocals are blown out on top of “Blackened Soul” or the slow-motion scorch of the lead guitar in “Empire” — but from the essence of the songs themselves. I’m not sure “exciting” is the right thing to call a release that spends so much of its time basking in psychedelic serenity, but VII is that, just the same, and each song is an invitation to the audience to join the band on this journey into the moment. They make it a pleasure to go.

The Kings of Frog Island, “Summer Sun” official video

The Kings of Frog Island on Facebook

The Kings of Frog Island on YouTube

The Kings of Frog Island on CDBaby

Kozmik Artifactz website

Kozmik Artifactz on Facebook

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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 — including Elder’s “The Gold & Silver Sessions” and the seminal comeback album “Refractions” from Lowrider — 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, Bädr 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

https://www.facebook.com/bluesfuneral/
https://www.instagram.com/blues.funeral/
https://bluesfuneralrecordings.bandcamp.com/
bluesfuneral.com

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Josiah to Reissue Out of the First Rays EP on Heavy Psych Sounds

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 26th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Josiah this cover on Instagram yesterday and I had the feeling something was up. It’s been 20 years since the UK heavy fuzzbringers made their debut with the Out of the First Rays EP, and today comes word that a Heavy Psych Sounds reissue of same will be out June 11 with preorders up now. It’s been kind of apparent something’s up with the long-defunct outfit, who broke up in 2009 as guitarist/vocalist Mathew Benthancourt pursued garage psych with subsequent outfit Cherry Choke, since they’re essentially new to current social media and their Bandcamp lists them as reactivated as of last year.

Does that mean new material? Maybe. In the meantime, it means this reissue, and if this is the first of several — certainly their 2002 self-titled and 2004’s No Time and 2007’s No Time are nothing if not ripe for a look from the post-Facebook generation of rockers — then all the better. If there’s a record to come, it’ll come. Let them remind people who they are first.

Bottom line is this is a killer band and good news any way you look at it.

From the PR wire:

josiah out of the first rays

Heavy Psych Sounds to announce JOSIAH repress of the debut EP Out Of The First Rays – presale starts TODAY!!!

Today we are extremely proud to start the presale of the JOSIAH legendary debut and sold-out EP Out Of The First Rays!!!

ALBUM PRESALE:
https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm#HPS171

USA PRESALE:
https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop-usa.htm#HPS171

20 years on and Out Of The First Rays is still as powerful today. As the band rip straight into “Head On” it’s clear that Josiah wanted to take heavy rock back to it’s opiate drenched roots. Psychedelic lyrics sung with soul and the heavy as fuck grooves laid down across this release owe a debt to Black Sabbath and Monster Magnet.

“Malpaso” quickly became the bands signature track (featuring on film soundtracks and TV shows) with its pulsating riffs and trippy middle section and “Spacequake” makes you start to think there must be something in the midlands water supply, as Bethancourt echoes Ozzy with “come take my hand my child” and the Iommi styled guitar hooks kick you straight in the gut. “Sweet Smoke” kicks off side B with its Cactus meets Grand Funk early 70’s rock vibes. The sonic interplay between the power trio, back the vocals up for this anthem to a burning earth – “Let the flames just take you higher”.

The 10 minute closer “Black Maria” with its psychedelic twin vocals and one of the heaviest riffs you’ll hear this side of dead, gives way to uptempo bass grooves and a wah drenched lead break. Take another sip of the electric kool-aid baby, before we “slide down the cosmos” and fall into the big black sleep.

It’s the year 2000 – the world did not end, Uncle Acid, Graveyard and Kadavar are nothing but twinkles in Satan’s eye – and Josiah are about to come together to make something very heavy happen. From the beating heart of the UK, Mathew Bethancourt, Sie Beasley and Chris Jones laid down a dark sound, laced with acid and fuelled by Bethancourts heavy fuzz-wah guitar playing. Early live shows with the likes of Nebula, Zen Guerilla, Atomic Bitchwax and more, unleashed the loud, full stack, heavy psych rock experience of Josiah.

The group quickly rose to prominence on the UK scene with heavy touring and in June 2001 released their debut record Out Of The First Rays via Cargo Records. The quick to sell out 10″ EP’s killer cut “Malpaso” was aired by Marianne Hobbs on the Radio One Rock Show and Metal Hammer included “Spacequake” on their best new UK bands compilation CD.

RELEASED IN
15 ULTRA LTD TEST PRESS VINYL
150 ULTRA LTD SIDE A/SIDE B WHITE-YELLOW-RED VINYL
300 LTD RED VINYL
BLACK VINYL

PRESALE STARTS: MARCH 25th

RELEASE DATE: JUNE 11th

TRACKLIST
Head On
Malpaso
Spacequake
Sweet Smoke
Black Maria

JOSIAH is
Mathew Bethancourt – vocals & guitar
Sie Beasley – bass & vocals
Chris Jones – drums

https://www.instagram.com/josiah_rock_uk/
https://josiah-rock-uk.bandcamp.com/
heavypsychsoundsrecords.bandcamp.com
www.heavypsychsounds.com
https://www.facebook.com/HEAVYPSYCHSOUNDS/

Josiah, “Black Maria” from Josiah

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Quarterly Review: Boris, DVNE, Hydra, Jason Simon, Cherry Choke, Pariiah, Saavik, Mountain Tamer, Centre El Muusa, Population II

Posted in Reviews on December 21st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Kind of a spur of the moment thing, this Quarterly Review. I’ve been adding releases all the while, of course, but my thought was to do this after my year-end list went up, and I realized, hey, if I’ve got like 70 records I haven’t reviewed yet, maybe there’s some of that stuff worth considering. So here we are. I’ve pushed back my best-of-2020 stuff and basically swapped it with the Quarterly Review. Does it matter to you? I seriously, seriously doubt it, but I believe in transparency and that’s what’s up. Thought I’d let you know. And yeah, this is going to go into next week, take us through the X-mas holiday this Friday, so whatever. You celebrate your way and I’ll celebrate mine. Let’s roll.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Boris, No

boris no

As a general project, reviewing Boris is damn near pointless. One might as well review the moon: “uh, it’s big and out there most of the time?” The only reason to do it is either to exercise one’s own need to hyperbolize or help the band sell records. Well, Boris doesn’t need my push and I don’t need to tell them how great they are. No is 40 minutes of the widely and wildly lauded Japanese heavy rock(s) experimentalists trying to riff away existing in 2020, delving high speed into hardcore here and there and playing off that with grueling sludge, punk, garage-metal and the penultimate “Loveless,” which is kind of Boris being their own genre. Much respect to the band, and I suppose one might critique Boris for, what?, being so Boris-y?, but there really isn’t a ton that hasn’t been said about them because such a ton has. I’m not trying to disparage their work at all — No is just what you’d expect as regards defying expectation — but after 20-plus years, there’s only so many ways one wants to call a band genius.

Boris on Thee Facebooks

Boris on Bandcamp

 

DVNE, Omega Severer

DVNE Omega Severer

Kind of a soft-opening for Edinburgh’s DVNE as an act on Metal Blade Records, unless of course one counts the two songs on the Omega Severer EP itself, which are post-metallic beasts of the sort that would and should make The Ocean blush. Progressive, heavy, and remarkably ‘next-wave’ feeling, DVNE‘s awaited follow-up to 2017’s Asheran may only be about 17 and a half minutes long, but it bodes remarkably well as the band master a torrent of intensity on the 10-minute opening title-cut and answer that with the immediately galloping “Of Blade and Carapace,” smashing battle-axe riffing and progressive shimmer against each other and finding it to be an alchemy of their own. Album? One suspects not until they can tour for it, but if Omega Severer is DVNE serving notice, consider the message received loud, clear, dynamic, crushing, spacious, and so on. Already veterans of Psycho Las Vegas, they sound like a band bent on capturing a broader audience in the metallic sphere.

DVNE on Thee Facebooks

Metal Blade Records website

 

Hydra, From Light to the Abyss

hydra from light to the abyss

There’s no questioning where Hydra‘s heart is at on their debut full-length, From Light to the Abyss. It belongs to the devil and it belongs to Black Sabbath. The Polish four-piece riff hard and straightforward throughout most of the five-track offering (released by Piranha Music), and samples set the kind of atmosphere that should be familiar enough to the converted — “No One Loves Like Satan” reminds of Uncle Acid in its initial channel-changing and swaggering riff alike — but doomly centerpiece “Creatures of the Woods” and the layered vocal melodies late in closer “Magical Mind” perhaps offer a glimpse at the direction the band could take from here. What matters though is where Hydra are at today, and that’s bringing riffs and nod to the converted among the masses, and From Light to the Abyss offers no pretense otherwise. It is doom rock for doom rockers, grooves to be grooved to. They’re not void of ambition by any means — their songwriting makes that clear — but their traditionalism is sleeve-worn, which if you’re going to have it, is right where it should be.

Hydra on Thee Facebooks

Piranha Music on Bandcamp

 

Jason Simon, A Venerable Wreck

jason simon a venerable wreck

Dead Meadow guitarist/vocalist Jason Simon follows 2016’s Familiar Haunts (review here) with the genre-spanning A Venerable Wreck, finding folk roots in obscure beats and backwards this-and-that, country in fuzz, ramble in space, and no shortage of experimentalism besides. A Venerable Wreck consists of 12 songs and though there are times where it can feel disjointed, that becomes part of the ride. It’s not all supposed to make sense. Yet what happens by the time you get around to “No Entrance No Exit” is that Simon (and a host of cohorts) has set his own context broad enough so that the drone reach of “Hollow Lands” and sleek, organ-laced indie of closer “Without Reason or Right” can coexist without any real interruption of flow between them. The question with A Venerable Wreck isn’t so much whether the substance is there, it’s whether the listener is open to it. Welcome to psychedelic America. Please inject this snake venom and turn in your keys when you leave.

Jason Simon on Bandcamp

BYM Records website

 

Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse

Cherry Choke-Raising Salzburg Rockhouse-Cover

You won’t hear me take away from the opening psych-scorch hook of “Mindbreaker” or the fuzzed-on, boogie-down, -up, and -sideways of “Black Annis” which follows, but there’s something extra fun about hearing Frog Island’s Cherry Choke jam out a 13-minute, drum-solo-inclusive version of “6ix and 7even” that makes Raising Salzburg Rockhouse even more of a reminder of how underrated both they are as a band and Mat Bethancourt is as a player. Look no further than “Domino” if you want absolute proof. The whole band rips it up at the Austrian gig, which was recorded in 2015 as they supported their third and still-most-recent full-length, Raising the Waters (review here), but Bethancourt puts on a Hendrixian clinic in the nine-minute cut from 2011’s A Night in the Arms of Venus (review here), which is actually less of a clinic than it is pure distorted swagger followed by a mellow “cheers, thanks” before diving into “Used to Call You Friend.” A 38-minute set would be perfect for an vinyl release, and anytime Cherry Choke want to get around to putting together a fourth studio album, well, that’ll be just fine too.

Cherry Choke on Thee Facebooks

Cherry Choke on Bandcamp

 

Pariiah, Swallowed by Fog

Pariiah swallowed by fog

It’s a special breed of aggro that emerges as a result of living in the most densely populated state in the union, and New Jersey’s Pariiah have it to spare. Bringing together sludge tonality with elder-style New York hardcore lumbering riffs on their Trip Machine Laboratories tape, Swallowed by Fog, they exude a thickened brand of pissed off that’s outright going to be too confrontation for many who take it on. But if you want a middle finger to the face, this is what it sounds like, and the six songs (compiled into four on the digital version of the release) come and go entirely without pretense and leave little behind except bruises and the promise of more to come. They’re a new band, started in this most wretched of years, but there’s no learning curve whatsoever among the members of Devoid of Faith, The Nolan Gate, Kill Your Idols, Changeörder and others. I’d go to Maplewood to see these cats. I’m just saying. Maybe even Elizabeth.

Pariiah on Bandcamp

Trip Machine Laboratories website

 

Saavik, Saavik

saavik saavik

So you’ve got both members of Holly Hunt in a four-piece sludging out with spacey synth and the band is named after a Star Trek character? Not to get too personal, but that’s going to pique my interest one way or the other. Saavik — and they clearly prefer the Kirstie Alley version, rather than Robin Curtis, going by drummer Beatriz Monteavaro‘s artwork — are damn near playing space rock by the end of “He’s Dead Jim,” the opener of their self-titled debut EP, but even that’s affected by a significant tonal weight in Didi Aragon‘s bass and the guitar of Gavin Perry, however much Ryan Rivas‘ synth and effects-laced vocals might seem to float overhead, but “Meld” rolls along at a steadier nod, and “Horizon” puts the synth more in the lead without becoming any less heavy for doing so. Likewise, “Red Sun” calls to mind Godflesh in its proto-machine metal stomp, but there’s more concern in Saavik‘s sound with expanse than just pure crush, and that shows up in fascinating ways in these songs.

Saavik on Thee Facebooks

Other Electricities on Bandcamp

 

Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual

mountain tamer psychosis ritual

There’s been a dark vibe all along nestled into Mountain Tamer‘s sound, and that’s certainly the case on Psychosis Ritual, with which the Los Angeles-based trio make their debut on Heavy Psych Sounds. It’s their third full-length overall behind 2018’s Godfortune // Dark Matters (review here) and 2016’s self-titled debut (review here), and it finds their untamed-feeling psychedelia rife with that same threat of violence, not necessarily thematically as much as sonically, like the songs themselves are the weapon about to be turned on the listener. Maybe the buzz of “Warlock” or the fuckall echo of the prior-issued single “Death in the Woods” (posted here) aren’t out there trying to be “Hammer Smashed Face” or anything, but neither is this the hey-bruh-good-times heavy jams for which Southern California is known these days. Consider the severity of “Turoc Maximus Antonis” or the finally-released screams in closer “Black Noise,” which bookends Psychosis Ritual with the title-track and seems at last to be the point where whatever grim vibe these guys are riding finally consumes them. Mountain Tamer continue to be unexpected and righteous in kind.

Mountain Tamer on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Psych Sounds on Bandcamp

 

Centre El Muusa, Centre El Muusa

centre el muusa centre el muusa

Hypnotic Estonian psychedelic krautrock instrumentals not your thing? Well that sounds like a personal problem Centre El Muusa are ready to solve. The evolved-from-duo four-piece get spaced out amid the semi-motorik repetitions of their self-titled debut (on Sulatron), and that seems to suit them quite well, thanksabunch. Drone trips and essential swirl brim with solar-powered pulsations and you can set your deflectors on maximum and route all the secondaries to reinforce if you want, there’s still a decent chance 9:53 opener an longest track “Turkeyfish” (immediate points, double for the appropriately absurd title) is going to sweep you off what you used to call your feet when that organ line hits at about six minutes in. That’s to say nothing of the cosmic collision later in “Burning Lawa” or the just-waiting-for-a-Carl-Sagan-voiceover “Mia” that follows. Even the 3:46 “Ain’t Got Enough Mojo” lives long enough to prove itself wrong. Interstellar tape transmissions fostered by obvious weirdos in the great out-there in “Szolnok,” named for a city in Hungary that, among other things, hosts the goulash festival. Right fucking on.

Centre El Muusa on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

 

Population II, À La Ô Terre

Population II a La o Terre

The first Population II album, a 2017 self-titled, was comprised of two tracks, each long enough to consume a 12″ side. Somehow it’s fitting with the Montreal-based singing-drummer trio’s aesthetic that their second long-player, À la Ô Terre, would take a completely different tack, employing shorter freakouts like “L’Offrande” and “La Nuit” and the garage-rocking “La Danse” and what-if-JeffersonAirplane-but-on-Canadian-mushrooms “À la Porte de Demain” and still-more-drifting finisher “Je Laisse le Soleil Briller” amid the more stretched out “Attaction,” the space-buzzer “Ce n’est Réve” while cutting a middle ground in the greaked-out (I was gonna type “freaked out” and hit a typo and I’m keeping it) “Il eut un Silence dans le Ciel,” which also betrays the jazzy underpinnings that somehow make all of À la Ô Terre come across as progressive instead of haphazard. From the start to the close, you don’t know what’s coming next, and just because that’s by design doesn’t make it less effective. If anything, it makes Population II all the more impressive.

Population II on Thee Facebooks

Castle Face Records website

 

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Mathew’s Hidden Museum Streams Golden Echoes EP in Full

Posted in audiObelisk on December 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

mathews hidden museum

This Friday, Dec. 4, UK-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Mathew Bethancourt — known for his work in Josiah, Cherry Choke, The Kings of Frog Island‘s first three LPs, etc. — will release the debut EP from a new solo endeavor, Mathew’s Hidden Museum. Comprised of three tracks, Golden Echoes follows behind two singles posted in October (one of which was a remake of The Kings of Frog Island‘s “Satanica”), and while Bethancourt has in the past produced some of the most diggable fuzz ever put to tape — yes, I mean that — Golden Echoes pushes beyond the hairy riffs once proffered by Josiah and even Cherry Choke‘s blend of garage rock and psychedelia to offer a decided turn toward the weird.

Yes, friends. The sometimes-mandated idleness of 2020’s quarantine months has produced any number of offshoot projects from artists, but honestly, as it’s been five years since the last Cherry Choke studio LP, 2015’s stunning Raising the Waters (review here), I’m glad to hear from Bethancourt at all. And Golden Echoes — as the title might hint — is far from another “hey I’ve been stuck in my house for five months so here’s a dungeon synth”-style experience. The bulk of the 16-minute outing takes place in “Golden” and “The Voyage of Psyche,” while closer “Golden (Echoes Flow)))” builds off the opener with a quiet, drifting three and a half minutes, easing into the end of the proceedings. Prior to, the five-minute “Golden” starts with far back drums and piano and Mathews Hidden Museum golden echoesvocals, establishing a hook early on. A hint of melodica prefaces the soon-to-dominate-the-mix arrival of that overlaid progression, and when Bethancourt joins with a second layer of vocals, the experimentalist vibe is set and ready to be fleshed out for the remainder of the piece, which is backed by the 7:20 “The Voyage of Psyche”‘s immediately bizarro-Floydian organ.

Less structured overall, and without the solidity of the same kind of prominent drumbeat to keep it grounded — at least initially — “The Voyage of Psyche” is a semi-directed self-jam that unfolds in two, maybe three, stages. The organ holds sway initially until the arrival of harder drums and electric guitar near the midpoint. A solo gives way to a lower-toned, deceptively fuzzy riff, like Bethancoursneaking into his wheelhouse without telling anyone, but it’s the drums that ultimately dominate, as a relatively simple but locked in groove is backed by quiet bass as the guitar takes a momentary rest before picking up again and carrying to the sudden finish. After that aptly-named journey, the drone-patient beginning of “Golden (Echoes Flow)))” feels suitably like an arrival, with quietly woven guitar figures hinting toward a wash but never becoming quite so overbearing before the already-noted soft let-go at the finish.

The overarching lesson of Golden Echoes is that Mathew’s Hidden Museum is unhindered, unbound by expectation or some imaginary genre limit. The grace in the closer particularly speaks to future explorations that might come, but the same could easily be said of the entire release and the project as a whole. Whatever Bethancourt does with his Hidden Museum, or if he does nothing with it at all from here on out, these songs effectively speak to their moment of creation and set an open foundation upon which subsequent work might build. One doesn’t want to go around making predictions, but Golden Echoes sounds far more like a beginning than an end.

You’ll find the EP streaming below in its entirety, followed by some comment from Bethancourt about its making.

Please enjoy:

Mathew Bethancourt on Golden Echoes:

Like so many, I suddenly found myself with the gift of time. Time to think, reflect, step back and watch the world deconstruct itself. Watching some turn to fear and panic, now aware of the unquenchable thirst created by the sudden lack of rampant consumption in their lives. Whilst I calmly looked on, observed and slowly started to make music.

The enforced social isolation meant I had to do everything myself. My parameters and limitations forced the creative solutions unique to my situation. This music will never happen again. It’s a one off product of a freak moment in time. Born of an experience that will echo across all our lives. All written and performed during the UK lockdown. I hope my observations, of the delicate construct we call society and the people existing within, reflect in the sound. Like – Golden Echoes)))

Tracklisting:
1. Golden
2. The Voyage Of Psyche
3. Golden (Echoes Flow)))

Composed, Performed & Recorded by Mathew’s Hidden Museum somewhere between the months of April & September 2020.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: The Kings of Frog Island, VI

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 3rd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the kings of frog island vi

[Slick play above to stream The Kings of Frog Island’s VI in full. Vinyl is out Nov. 9 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

It’s not as if The Kings of Frog Island have been absent. Granted, it’s been six years since the band released their fifth numerically-titled full-length, V (review here), in 2014, which brought the “Sunburn/Every turn” hook and a host of jammed-out, vinyl-flowing psychedelic delights, but still. In 2016, the band oversaw a vinyl issue for 2013’s IV (review here) as a first step in their alliance with Kozmik Artifactz, and in 2019, they completed a new single and video for every month of the year (posted here) — plus one to grow on — and in March, they re-recorded “The Watcher” from 2008’s II (discussed here) and posted another video to coincide. With the advent of VI, however, the longest LP drought of their career comes to an end, and a perhaps-overdue proper album arrives to find them with a somewhat shifted focus.

Comprised of 10 songs split evenly onto two vinyl sides and released again through Kozmik ArtifactzVI completes a second trilogy of offerings for The Kings of Frog Island, with founding members Mark Buteaux (vocals/guitar) and Roger “Doj” Watson (drums) as well as Gavin SearleLee Madel-Toner and Tony Heslop working at their own Amphibia Sound Studios IV in the groups native Leicester, UK, over a period from 2017-2020 to construct the material, bringing together the mellow psych explorations in which they’ve basked since IV with the more structured songwriting of the earlier work of what one might call their Elektrohasch era — their 2005 self-titled debut, the aforementioned II, and 2010’s III (review here). That third album would force an adjustment with the departure of guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (also of Josiah) to focus on the garage-y leanings of Cherry Choke, but The Kings of Frog Island flourished in cosmic drift and made a space for themselves both in terms of sound and the studio where they captured it. In short, they dug in. Across its 42-minute span, VI carries the feel of an emergence.

Or maybe a re-emergence would be more like it, but one way or the other, VI brings The Kings of Frog Island into alignment with all sides of their sound. The shimmering guitar in “Toxic Heart” seems to hint toward earlier days, while the immediately-prior “Bad Trip” is pure psychedelic in-studio experimentation, and the beginning that VI receives with the 1:37 ambient “Monotron” sets an atmospheric foundation that even the more straightforward chorus-making of the subsequent fuzz rocker “Ever and Forever” builds upon. Not only that, but the first two cuts also set up the back-and-forth sensibility that plays out on much of VI, with grounded riffs and progressions meeting head-on with spacier keyboard work sometimes even within a single track itself, as on “Pigs in Space,” perhaps named for the yawning sort of oink later in its proceedings.

the kings of frog island liner

And even as “Toxic Heart” picks up after “Bad Trip” — the two are presented as one song in the digital version of the album I have, but there’s a clear divide around five and a half minutes in — intertwining vocal lines, the already-noted airy guitar and even the generally languid pacing continue to harness the tripped-out feel, even if in less directly experimental fashion than on the song before. The Kings of Frog Island, then, are headed far out. They’re going. One way or the other, their goal is to get there, and they do precisely that with these songs. But it’s the level of interplay between structure and fluidity that makes VI a standout in their catalog and feel like a summation of their work not just over the three years they put into the record’s making, but the 15 years of their career to this point. That would be a lot to ask of a band whose approach and lineup has varied to the degree that The Kings of Frog Island‘s has over their time, but perhaps the patience that seems to come through in “Toxic Heart” or the side B opener “Sicario” is emblematic of the patience that went into making the record in the first place, and maybe that’s the ‘secret weapon’ here, such as it is. They took their time and made the album they wanted to make.

Easily said, harder done. “Sicario” has a moodier feel in its fuzzed lumber, slow, touching on doom but still maintaining enough lysergic tonality as it moves toward its final wash and shifts into “Brainless,” which is the shortest cut on VI apart from “Monotron.” In its 3:09, it builds up from a humming drone and ambient (amphibient?) noise to a quiet guitar line joined at 1:41 by a solo and soon thereafter by drums that continue the instrumental push by uncovering a funk that was there all along and had just gone unseen. Bell-ish sounds, forward and backward, consume the march at about 2:45 and there’s only ultra-soft resonance left over until Madel-Toner‘s vocals enter to begin “Murderer,” which seems to herald the arrival of a final movement of VI that stands apart from its two-sided configuration.

That is, the last three songs — “Murderer,” “I Am the Hurricane” and “Fine” — flow together particularly well, leaving an impression on the listener that underscores the ease of motion across the album as a whole. “Murderer” brings Monster Magnet-style riffing together with synthesizer breadth and multiple layers of vocals, while “I Am the Hurricane” shifts from its blown-out verses into repetitions of its title line over a jam that is about as much of a signature as The Kings of Frog Island‘s approach could ever ask for, and “Fine” closes with a fuzzgrunge shrug and playful tambourine bounce and a winding guitar line like the ’90s alt rock of some other, inevitably cooler, dimension. Even unto its elaborate cover art and we-have-a-logo-now logo, The Kings of Frog Island‘s VI speaks to a sense of creative purpose on the part of the band that, again, hasn’t necessarily been lost — they did put out 13 singles in 2019 — but that manifests here in a way that is engaging and only leaves one with the feeling that they have more to say. It might be another six years before they get to a seventh full-length and it might not, but a decade and a half on from their first release, The Kings of Frog Island keep exploring, keep experimenting and keep crafting a sound that is theirs alone.

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The Kings of Frog Island on YouTube

The Kings of Frog Island on CDBaby

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The Kings of Frog Island Post “The Watcher 2020” Live Studio Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 2nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the kings of frog island in studio

On June 18, The Kings of Frog Island will take the stage — something they don’t do all that often — at The Soundhouse in their native Leicester, UK, to join French psych-tinged-with-Eastern-flair rockers Karkara and openers Early Remains for, yes, a gig. As I said, it’s not something that happens all the time for The Kings of Frog Island. To wit, the last one they had listed was in Sept. 2017, also in Leicester, though at a different venue. I’m pretty sure they’ve played since then, but one way or another, you get the idea. Did I mention it doesn’t happen all the time? Okay then.

In order to be properly prepared for said show, they’re of course working on hammering out a set, and if 2019’s year-long singles series taught us anything, it was that The Kings of Frog Island know how to use YouTube. Accordingly, they’ve filmed themselves doing a runthrough of a new arrangement of “The Watcher,” which was originally released on their 2008 second album, II (discussed here), through Elektrohasch Schallplatten. The lineup has changed since then, but a lot of what you need to know about the difference from one to the other you can learn from the comparative runtimes. The original? 4:20. The new one? Three minutes longer.

“Save all your love… Don’t let no back door man in…” And so on.

As a fan of the band’s ongoing amorphous amphibiousness, I keep hoping for word of a follow-up to 2014’s (review here), which of course would be called VI, but though there was some report of test pressings being in last Fall, I’ve yet to find anything about that materializing into a release date or anything of the sort.

Until that happens, for those of us who won’t make it to Leicester in June, enjoy this clip recorded live in the studio. I’ve also included the original in case you’d like to dig into that:

The Kings of Frog Island, “The Watcher 2020”

The Watcher 2020

We are getting ready for a live set and thought why not press record.

All done in one night… one take… bit like the set.

Recorded live at Amphibia Sound Studios on the 27/02/2020.

The Kings of Frog Island, “The Watcher”

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The Kings of Frog Island on YouTube

The Kings of Frog Island on CDBaby

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The Kings of Frog Island Complete Year-Long Series of Single Releases

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 10th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

the kings of frog island xmas ball

Bands attempt this kind of thing all the time — labels too — and far, far fewer see it through to completion. At the start of the year, Leicester, UK’s underrated post-Elektrohasch psych wanderers The Kings of Frog Island set out to release a song every month across the entirety of 2019. And they did it. They’re a self-contained act in terms of recording — i.e. DIY — so assuming life allows them to get together at semi-regular intervals, it wouldn’t be impossible for each one of these tracks to have been put to tape (or, you know, hard drive) as it was created, but I don’t think that was the circumstance. Some of this stuff was recorded before and finalized or mixed down, or was from other sessions. One is a track reworked and one is a take on Monster Magnet‘s “Ozium” and so it’s not really all drawn from one source. It doesn’t seem to have been a case of, “It’s the first of the month — everybody back in the live room.”

And hey, that’s fair. However it’s done, even self-releasing 12 tracks — plus a bonus holiday song, no less! — in a single year is a massive undertaking, so right on. If you’re like me and have been wondering with The Kings of Frog Island might eventually get around to following up 2014’s V (review here), this project has offered a year-long listening experience that’s scratched the itch on multiple fronts. The even better news, though, is that in September, The Kings of Frog Island received the test pressings for VI, which they’ll release through Kozmik Artifactz at some point I guess in the New Year. I’m not sure how much or if any of these songs will be on that record, but if they are or aren’t, the more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.

A note and then we can get to it: they’re on Spotify, and I probably could’ve just posted the whole thing as a playlist or whatever, but frankly that seems an injustice to me in terms of visually representing this as 13 separate releases from throughout 2019. As such, here are 13 separate YouTube embeds, which take up a more appropriate-feeling amount of space on the screen.

Enjoy:

The Kings of Frog Island, “We Wish You a Merry Xmas” (Dec.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Rocket Ron (Head in My Hands)” (Dec.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Heat Haze” (Nov.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “El Indio” (Oct.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Descending Inferno” (Sept.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Belvoir Felvoir” (Aug.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Nebula” (July)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Pigs in Kaftans” (June)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Ozium” (Monster Magnet cover, May)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Supernova” (April)

The Kings of Frog Island, “Temporal Riff Vol. 1” (March)

The Kings of Frog Island, “White Dwarf” (Feb.)

The Kings of Frog Island, “The Birth of a Star”

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The Kings of Frog Island on YouTube

The Kings of Frog Island on CDBaby

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