Quarterly Review: -(16)-, BoneHawk, DÖ, Howling Giant & Sergeant Thunderhoof, Chimney Creeps, Kingnomad, Shores of Null, The Device, Domo, Early Moods

Posted in Reviews on December 22nd, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

I just decided how long this Quarterly Review is actually going to be. It’s seven days, then I’ll do my year-end list and the poll results on New Year’s Eve and Day, respectively. That’s the plan. Though honestly, I might pick up after that weekend and continue QR-style for that next week. There’s a lot more to cover, I think. The amount of releases this year has been pretty insane and completely overwhelming. I’ve tried to keep up as best I can and clearly have failed in that regard or I probably wouldn’t be so swamped now. So it goes. One way or the other, I don’t think a lot of emails are getting answered for the next two weeks, though I’ll try to keep up with that too.

But anyhow, that’s what’s up. Here’s Day II (because this is the QR where I do Roman numerals for absolutely no reason).

Quarterly Review #11-20:

16, Dream Squasher

16 Dream Squasher

The fourth long-player since 16‘s studio return with 2009’s Bridges to Burn, the 10-track Dream Squasher begins with tales of love for kid and dog, respectively. The latter might be the sweetest lyrics I’ve ever read for something that’s still bludgeoning sludge — said dog also gets a mention amid the ultra-lumbering chug and samples of “Acid Tongue” — and it’s worth mentioning that as the Cali intensity institution nears 30 years since their start in 1991, they’re branching out in theme and craft alike, as the melody of the organ-laced “Sadlands” shows. There’s even some harmonica in “Agora (Killed by a Mountain Lion),” though it’s soon enough swallowed by pummel and the violent punk of “Ride the Waves” follows. “Summer of ’96” plays off Bryan Adams for another bit of familial love, while closing duo “Screw Unto Others” and “Kissing the Choir Boy” indict capitalist and religious figureheads in succession amid weighted plod and seething anger, the band oddly in their element in this meld of ups, downs and slaughter.

16 on Thee Facebooks

16 at Relapse Records

 

BoneHawk, Iron Mountain

bonehawk iron mountain

Kalamazoo four-piece BoneHawk make an awaited follow-up to their 2014 debut, Albino Rhino (discussed here), in the form of Iron Mountain, thereby reminding listeners why it’s been awaited in the first place. Solid, dual-guitar, newer-school post-The Sword heavy rock. Second cut “Summit Fever” reminds a bit of Valley of the Sun and Freedom Hawk, but neither is a bad echelon of acts to stand among, and the open melodies of the subsequent title-track and the later “Fire Lake” do much to distinguish BoneHawk along the way. The winding lead lines of centerpiece “Wildfire” offer due drama in their apex, and “Thunder Child” and “Future Mind” are both catchy enough to keep momentum rolling into the eight-minute closer “Lake of the Clouds,” which caps with due breadth and, yes, is the second song on the record about a lake. That’s how they do in Michigan and that’s just fine.

BoneHawk on Thee Facebooks

Cursed Tongue Records webstore

 

DÖ, Black Hole Mass

do black hole mass

follow the Valborg example of lumbering barking extremity into a cosmic abyss on their Black Hole Mass three-songer, emitting charred roll like it’s interstellar background radiation and still managing to give an underlying sense of structure to proceedings vast and encompassing. “Gravity Sacrifice” and “Plasma “Psalm” are right on in their teeth-grinding shove, but it’s the 10-minute finale “Radiation Blessing” that steals my heart with its trippy break in the middle, sample, drifting guitar and all, as the Finnish trio build gradually back up to a massive march all the more effective for the atmosphere they’ve constructed around it. Construction, as it happens, is the underlying strength of Black Hole Mass, since it’s the firm sense of structure beneath their songs that allows them to so ably engage their dark matter metal over the course of these 22 minutes, but it’s done so smoothly one hardly thinks about it while listening. Instead, the best thing to do is go along for the ride, brief as it is, or at least bow head in appreciation to the ceremony as it trods across rigid stylistic dogma.

DÖ on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Howling Giant & Sergeant Thunderhoof, Turned to Stone Chapter 2: Masamune & Muramasa

turned to stone chapter 2 howling giant sergeant thunderhoof

Let this be a lesson to, well, everyone. This is how you do a conceptual split. Two bands getting together around a central idea — in this case, Tennessee’s Howling Giant and UK’s Sergeant Thunderhoof — both composing single tracks long enough to consume a vinyl side and expanding their reach not only to work with each other but further their own progressive sonic ideologies. Ripple Music‘s Turned to Stone split series is going to have a tough one to top in Masamune & Muramasa, as Howling Giant utterly shine in “Masamune” and the rougher-hewn tonality of Sergeant Thunderhoof‘s “Maramasa” makes an exceptional complement. Running about 41 minutes, the release is a journey through dynamic, with each act pushing their songwriting beyond prior limits in order to meet the occasion head-on and in grand fashion. They do, and the split easily stands among the best of 2020’s short releases as a result. If you want to hear where heavy rock is going, look no further.

Howling Giant on Thee Facebooks

Sergeant Thunderhoof on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Chimney Creeps, Nosedive

chimney creeps nosedive

Punkish shouts over dense noise rock tones, New York trio Chimney Creeps make their full-length debut with Nosedive, which they’ve self-released on vinyl. The album runs through seven tracks, and once it gets through the straight-ahead heavy punk of “March of the Creeps” and “Head in the Sand” at the outset, the palette begins to broaden in the fuzzy and gruff “Unholy Cow,” with the deceptively catchy “Splinter” following. “Creeper” and “Satisfied” before it are longer and accordingly more atmospheric, with a truck-backing-up sample at the start of “Creeper” that would seem to remind listeners just where the band’s sound has put them: out back, around the loading dock. Fair enough as “Diving Line” wraps in accordingly workmanlike fashion, the vocals cutting through clearly as they have all the while, prominent in the mix in a way that asks for balance. “Bright” I believe is the word an engineer might use, but the vocals stand out, is the bottom line, and thereby assure that the aggressive stance of the band comes across as more than a put-on.

Chimney Creeps on Thee Facebooks

Chimney Creeps on Bandcamp

 

Kingnomad, Sagan Om Rymden

Kingnomad - Sagan Om Rymden

Kingnomad‘s third album, Sagan Om Rymden certainly wants nothing for scope or ambition, setting its progressive tone with still-hooky opener “Omniverse,” before unfurling the more patient chug in “Small Beginnings” and taking on such weighted (anti-)matter as “Multiverse” and “The Creation Hymn” and “The Unanswered Question” later on. Along the way, the Swedish troupe nod at Ghost-style melodicism, Graveyard-ish heavy blues boogie — in “The Omega Experiment,” no less — progressive, psychedelic and heavy rocks and no less than the cosmos itself, as the Carl Sagan reference in the record’s title seems to inform the space-based mythology expressed and solidified within the songs. Even the acoustic-led interlude-plus “The Fermi Paradox” finds room to harmonize vocals and prove a massive step forward for the band. 2018’s The Great Nothing (review here) and 2017’s debut, Mapping the Inner Void (review here), were each more accomplished than the last, but Sagan Om Rymden is just a different level. It puts Kingnomad in a different class of band.

Kingnomad on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)

Shores of Null Beyond the Shores On Death and Dying

By the time Shores of Null are nine minutes into the single 38-minute track that makes up their third album, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying), they would seem to have unveiled at least four of the five vocalists who appear throughout the proceedings, with the band’s own Davide Straccione joined by Swallow the Sun‘s Mikko Kotamäki as well as Thomas A.G. Jensen (Saturnus), Martina Lesley Guidi (of Rome’s Traffic Club) and Elisabetta Marchetti (INNO). There are guests on violin, piano and double-bass as well, so the very least one might say is that Shores of Null aren’t kidding around when they’re talking about this record in a sense of being ‘beyond’ themselves. The journey isn’t hindered so much as bolstered by the ambition, however, and the core five-piece maintain a steady presence throughout, serving collectively as the uniting factor as “Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)” moves through its portrayal of the stages of grief in according movements of songcraft, gorgeously-arranged and richly composed as they are as they head toward the final storm. In what’s been an exceptional year for death-doom, Shores of Null still stand out for the work they’ve done.

Shores of Null on Thee Facebooks

Spikerot Records website

 

The Device, Tribute Album

the device tribute album

Tectonic sludge has become a mainstay in Polish heavy, and The Device, about whom precious little is known other than they’re very, very, very heavy when they want to be, add welcome atmospherics to the lumbering weedian procession. “Rise of the Device” begins the 47-minute Tribute Album in crushing form, but “Ritual” and the first minute or so of “BongOver” space out with droney minimalism, before the latter track — the centerpiece of the five-songer and only cut under six minutes long at 2:42 — explodes in consuming lurch. “Indica” plays out this structure again over a longer stretch, capping with birdsong and whispers and noise after quiet guitar and hypnotic, weighted riffing have played back and forth, but it’s in the 23-minute closer “Exhale” that the band finds their purpose, a live-sounding final jam picking up after a long droning stretch to finish the record with a groove that, indeed, feels like a release in the playing and the hearing. Someone’s speaking at the end but the words are obscured by echo, and to be sure, The Device have gotten their point across by then anyhow. The stark divisions between loud and quiet on Tribute Album are interesting, as well as what the band might do to cover the in-between going forward.

Galactic SmokeHouse Records on Thee Facebooks

The Device on Bandcamp

 

Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2

Domo Domonautas Vol 2

Spanish progressive heavy psychedelic semi-instrumentalists Domo follow late-2019’s Domonautas Vol. 1 (review here) with a four-song second installment, and Domonautas Vol. 2 answers its predecessor back with the jazz-into-doom of “Avasaxa” (7:43) and the meditation in “Dolmen” (13:50) on side A, and the quick intro-to-the-intro “El Altar” (2:06) and the 15-minute “Vientohalcón” on side B, each piece working with its own sense of motion and its own feeling of progression from one movement to the next, never rushed, never overly patient, but smooth and organic in execution even in its most active or heaviest stretches. The two most extended pieces offer particular joys, but neither should one discount the quirky rhythm at the outset of “Avasaxa” or the dramatic turn it makes just before five minutes in from meandering guitar noodling to plodding riffery, if only because it sounds like Domo are having so much fun catching the listener off guard. Exactly as they should be.

Domo on Thee Facebooks

Clostridium Records website

 

Early Moods, Spellbound

early moods spellbound

Doom be thy name. Or, I guess Early Moods be thy name, but doom definitely be thy game. The Los Angeles four-piece make their debut with the 26-minute Spellbound, and I suppose it’s an EP, but the raw Pentagram worship on display in the opening title-track and the Sabbath-ism that ensues flows easy and comes through with enough sincerity of purpose that if the band wanted to call it a full-length, one could hardly argue. Guitar heads will note the unbridled scorch of the solos throughout — centerpiece “Isolated” moves from one into a slow-Slayer riff that’s somehow also Candlemass, which is a feat in itself — while “Desire” rumbles with low-end distortion that calls to mind Entombed even as the vocals over top are almost pure Witchcraft. They save the most engaging melody for the finale “Living Hell,” but even that’s plenty grim and suited to its accompanying dirt-caked feel. Rough in production, but not lacking clarity, Spellbound entices and hints at things to come, but has a barebones appeal all its own as well.

Early Moods on Thee Facebooks

Dying Victims Productions website

 

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Album Review: Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble

Posted in Reviews on August 14th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

dirty streets rough and tumble

The thing about Dirty Streets is they’re really, really good. This poses a peculiar kind of challenge when it comes to writing about the Memphis three-piece, because when it comes right down to it, what more do you really need? After some five studio albums, the heavy-blues-soul rockers present Rough and Tumble through Alive Naturalsound with 10 tracks and an unassuming sub-35-minute runtime, live-recorded for Ditty TV in Memphis, shot and recorded straight through as a set. And you know what? It’s really good. They’re a really good band. There you go.

One recalls being taken aback by the clearheaded professionalism of their second record, Movements (review here), in 2011, and the simple truth of the matter is they’ve never wavered from the standard they set there or even on 2009’s debut, Portrait of a Man. Founded by guitarist/vocalist Justin Toland and bassist Thomas Storz with Andrew Denham on drums before they even set about recording that first album — formative, grittier than they’d wind up, but still headed in the direction they went — the band seem to have always known their purpose in terms of writing classic heavy blues and soul songs, and Rough and Tumble highlights not just the chemistry that their maturity has wrought across the last decade-plus, but the effectiveness of the craft that’s driven them all along.

As players, there is not one single member of Dirty Streets — sometimes also The Dirty Streets — who, if you put them in another band, wouldn’t be very likely to be the best player in that band. Denham‘s strutting snare pops on “Take a Walk,” for example. The F-U-N-K funk in Storz‘s bassline on “Think Twice” from 2015’s White Horse (review here), and Toland‘s follow-the-guitar vocal melody at the outset on “Good Pills” from that same record, leading the shuffle and initial kick of energy to get things rolling — each one of them brings something special to what they do. Further, each one makes the band stronger. I won’t deny Toland is a significant presence here and throughout the band’s history — I said as much just the other day — but as Rough and Tumble plays out, it’s not just about him, or just about Storz, or Denham. It’s all three; how they communicate as players and how they convey the material that comprises this utter joy of a set.

Cuts come from as far back as the slide-infused “Itta Benna” off Portrait of a Man, and after “Good Pills,” the trio shift into two covers of ’70s Americana-ish singer-songwriter Joe South in “Tell the Truth” and the more twang-inflected “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” the hooks of both tracks blending almost seamlessly with those of the original songs that follow as “Itta Benna” leads into “Can’t Go Back” from 2018’s Distractions, the band’s latest studio LP. That particular pairing highlights the point above — while Dirty Streets have certainly grown as a band and the sound of their records bears that out from one into the next, the underlying aesthetic mission has been steady all along. One way or the other, new material or old, originals or covers, Dirty Streets are locked in. That’s really all there is to it. They’ve never operated any other way. At this point, I don’t think they could if they wanted to.

dirty streets

Among their albums, Movements and 2013’s Blades of Grass (review here) — the latter of which was their first for Alive Naturalsound — are unrepresented, and the focus is rightly on Distractions as the most recent outing. “Can’t Go Back” leads into “Think Twice” smoothly, the start-stops of the latter’s verses opening into a fluid and memorable chorus, with Denham moving to the crash to drive a solo section ahead of a final runthrough of the hook later on. Structurally sound, perfectly paced, mellow but heavy, it’s nothing less than Dirty Streets at their best. By this point in the proceedings, the vibe is set and TolandStorz and Denham are absolutely on a roll, which only makes the arrival of “Take a Walk” with its funky wah guitar and push of drums all the more welcome.

Understand, it’s not a flawless performance throughout Rough and Tumble in the sense of a live album that’s been overdubbed and worked on in the studio. But would you really want that? What Rough and Tumble presents instead is Dirty Streets as they are, and frankly, that’s plenty. I’m not sure either they or the record live up to moniker or title — they’re not particularly dirty and the songs are hardly rough — but there’s no question Dirty Streets are in their element performing live like this. It’s worth noting that the two longest tracks on Rough and Tumble are “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” (5:10) and “Itta Benna” (4:11). A cover and a song from their first LP. The rest of what surrounds is on either side of three minutes long.

That includes, tellingly, the closing salvo of “Trying to Remember,” “The Voices” and “On the Way.” The bookends come from Distractions, and “The Voices” from White Horse, but the meatier riff of “Trying to Remember” picks up from “Take a Walk” and carries that energy forward in more winding fashion in a transition to something of a comedown at the end of the set, as “The Voices” and “On the Way” are both acoustic. This was likely done with the video presentation in mind, but it works surprisingly well on the live album too, making it so that there’s not so much a big-rock-finish or blowout at the end, but a more pastoral feel in line with the country-soul they’ve shown elsewhere. Denham moves to a shaker rather than the full kit, and even though none of the final three tracks is over three minutes long, they still manage to make some of the most striking impressions of Rough and Tumble as a whole.

So you see the dilemma. It’s not that one would want to rag on Dirty Streets or offer some non-constructive critique of what they do. Far from it. However, “golly this band is good” doesn’t exactly cut it as hard analysis either. But they are, and what they do continues to defy the notion that stylistic achievement requires high-minded progressive genre blends — nothing against them — or anything more than an organic conversation between players. Dirty Streets have their roots and they know it, but they’re their own band and one can only be thankful for that.

Dirty Streets, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” (Joe South cover)

Dirty Streets on Thee Facebooks

Dirty Streets on Instagram

Dirty Streets on Bandcamp

Dirty Streets website

Alive Naturalsound on Thee Facebooks

Alive Naturalsound on Instagram

Alive Naturalsound website

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Finding Comfort in Live Music When There Isn’t Any

Posted in Features on August 12th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Bands and festivals have begun to announce 2021 dates and all that, but let’s be realistic: it’s going to be years before live music is what it once was. Especially in the United States, which is the country in the world hardest hit by the ol’ firelung in no small part because of the ineptitude of its federal leadership, an entire economic system of live music — not to mention the venues, promotions and other cultural institutions that support it on all levels — needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. It isn’t going to be just as simple as “social distancing is over and we can all crowd into the bar again.” Maybe not ever.

You’ve likely seen a band do a live stream at this point, even if after the fact, and I have too. Not the same as a real-life gig, duh, but if it helps raise some funds and keeps creative people working on something and gives an act a way to connect with its audience, you can’t call it bad. I’ve found, though, that with the dearth of live music happening and the nil potential that “going to a show” will happen anytime soon, I’ve been listening to more and more live albums.

This, in no small part, is because there are plenty to listen to. Some groups attempting to bring in cash either for themselves or relevant causes have put out live records in the last few months and made use of the downtime that would’ve otherwise been given to actually being on a stage or writing together in a room or whatever it might be. It’s been a way for a band to not just sit on its collective hands and wonder what the future will bring. When so much is out of your own control, you make the most of what you’ve got.

In that spirit, here’s a quick rundown of 10 recent live outings that I’ve been digging. If you’ve found you’re in the need of finding comfort in live music and whatever act you want to see isn’t doing a stream just this second, maybe you can put one of these on, close your eyes, and be affected a bit by the on-stage energy that comes through.

Thanks as always for reading, and thanks to Tim Burke, Vania Yosifova, and Chris Pojama Pearson for adding their suggestions when I asked on social media. Here we go, ordered by date of release:

Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)

arcadian child from far for the wild

Released Jan. 24.

Granted, this one came out before the real impact of COVID-19 was being felt worldwide, but with the recent announcement of Arcadian Child‘s next studio album coming out this Fall, including From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz) (discussed here) on this list seems only fair. The Cyprus-based four-piece even went so far as to include a couple new songs in the set that’ll show up on Protopsycho as well this October, so it’s a chance to get a preview of that material as well. Bonus for a bonus. Take the win.

Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1

kadavar studio live session

Released March 25.

Germany began imposing curfews in six of its states on March 22. At that point, tours were already being canceled, including Kadavar‘s European run after two shows, and the band hit Blue Wall Studio in Berlin for a set that was streamed through Facebook and in no small part helped set the pattern of streams in motion. With shows canceled in Australia/New Zealand and North America as well, Kadavar were hoping to recover some of the momentum they’d lost, and their turning it into a live record is also a part of that, as is their upcoming studio release, The Isolation Tapes.

Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019

Øresund Space Collective Sonic Rock Solstice 2019

Released April 3.

Of course, I’m perfectly willing to grant that Sonic Rock Solstice 2019 (review here) wasn’t something Øresund Space Collective specifically put out because of the pandemic, but hell, it still exists and that enough, as far as I’m concerned. As ever, they proliferate top notch psychedelic improv, and though I’ve never seen them and it seems increasingly likely I won’t at the fest I was supposed to this year, their vitality is always infectious.

Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop

pelican Live at The Grog Shop

Released April 15.

Let’s be frank — if you don’t love Pelican‘s music to a familial degree, it’s not that I think less of you as a person, but I definitely feel bad for you in a way that, if I told you face-to-face, you won’t find almost entirely condescending. The Chicago instrumentalists are high on my list of golly-I-wish-they’d-do-a-livestream, and if you need an argument to support that, this set from Ohio should do the trick nicely. It’s from September 2019, which was just nearly a year ago. If your mind isn’t blown by their chugging progressive riffs, certainly that thought should do the trick.

SEA, Live at ONCE

sea live at once

Released June 19.

Also captured on video, this set from Boston’s SEA finds them supporting 2020’s debut album, Impermanence (review here) and pushing beyond at ONCE Ballroom in their hometown. The band’s blend of post-metallic atmosphere and spacious melody-making comes through as they alternate between lumbering riffs and more subdued ambience, and it makes a fitting complement to the record in underscoring their progressive potential. The sound is raw but I’d want nothing less.

Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018

sumac st vitus

Released July 3.

Issued as a benefit to Black Lives Matter Seattle and a host of other causes, among them the Philadelphia Womanist Working Collective, this Sumac set is precisely what it promises in the title — a live show from 2018 at Brooklyn’s famed Saint Vitus Bar. I wasn’t at this show, but it does make me a little wistful to think of that particular venue in the current concert-less climate. Sumac aren’t big on healing when it comes to the raw sonics, but there’s certainly enough spaciousness here to get lost in should you wish to do so.

YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

YOB Pickathon 2019 Live from the Galaxy Barn

Released July 3.

They’ve since taken down the Bandcamp stream, but YOB’s Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn (review here) was released as a benefit for Navajo Nation COVID-19 relief, and is an hour-long set that paired the restlessness of “The Lie that is Sin” next to the ever-resonant “Marrow.” Of all the live records on this list, this is probably the one that’s brought me the most joy, and it also inspired the most recent episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal, which jumped headfirst into YOB‘s catalog. More YOB please. Also, if you haven’t seen the videos of Mike Scheidt playing his guitar around the house, you should probably hook into that too.

Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble

dirty streets rough and tumble

Released July 31.

If you’re not all the way down with the realization that Justin Toland is the man when it comes to heavy soul and blues guitar, Dirty Streets‘ new live record, Rough and Tumble, will set you straight, and it won’t even take that long. With the all-killer bass and drums of Thomas Storz and Andrew Denham behind, Toland reminds of what a true virtuoso player can accomplish when put in a room with a crowd to watch. That’s an important message for any time, let alone right now. These cats always deliver.

Amenra, Mass VI Live

amenra mass vi live

Released Aug. 7

Look, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend I’m the biggest Amenra fan in the world. I’m not. Sometimes I feel like they follow too many of their own rules for their own good, but there’s no question that live they’re well served by the spectacle they create, and their atmospherics are genuinely affecting. And I know that I’m in the minority in my position, so for anyone who digs them hard, they put up this stream-turned-record wherein they play a goodly portion of 2017’s Mass VI, and even as the self-professed not-biggest-fan-in-the-world, I can appreciate their effort and the screamy-scream-crushy-crush/open-spaced ambience that ensues.

Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019

Electric Moon Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019

Releasing Sept. 4.

Yeah, okay, this one’s not out yet, but sometimes I’m lucky enough to get things early for review and sometimes (on good days) those things happen to be new live records from Germany psychonauts Electric Moon. The Always-Out-There-Sula-Komets are in top form on Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019 as one would have to expect, and they’re streaming a 22-minute version of “777” now that rips so hard it sounds like it’s about to tear a hole into an alternate dimension where shows are still going on so yes please everyone go and listen to it and maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll really happen. The magic was in you all along.

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The Heavy Eyes to Record New Music; Tours Postponed

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 17th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

2020 has shit a lot of beds, but let us spare a moment’s sympathy for Memphis four-piece The Heavy Eyes, who spent half a decade making Love Like Machines (review here) the air-tight example of heavy rock songcraft done right that it became, only to release it on March 27 as the black hole was just opening wide to swallow everyone’s ambitions for the rest of the year. They’ll go back into the studio and make another recording, which presumably will also be released on Kozmik Artifactz at some point between now and then, and hopefully be able to fulfill what was to be their first European tour dates at a future time. Again, 2020 has been a bummer for many of us on many levels, but a band about to take off for a European tour supporting a killer record, really about to build some momentum behind them on a different level than they were before? Yeah, that’s a hard one to take.

The PR wire did its best to sound a hopeful note:

the heavy eyes

Heavy Psych Rockers THE HEAVY EYES Postpone European Tour | Enter Studio to Record New Material for 2021

Listen and order your copy of Love Like Machines by The Heavy Eyes here – https://theheavyeyesmemphis.bandcamp.com

In what was billed to be a stellar year for the US quartet; Memphis’ meanest psych band The Heavy Eyes have been forced to pull all dates on their 2020 European Tour due to increasing concerns around the COVID-19 outbreak.

In late March, just as the virus was beginning to take hold across the continent, the band released their first collection of new material in over five years with the brilliant and bold, Love Like Machines. A long overdue delivery of heady jams, big riffs and Southern soul the album sang of doomed armies, lost loves, meddling Wolfmen and in short, whet many a fan’s proverbial whistle for some much-needed beers and live music in cities where the band are both loved and lauded in equal measure.

“It is with great disappointment that we’ve had to postpone all of our live shows,” explains drummer, Eric Garcia. “But we’re doing our part to combat the virus and eventually, when it’s safe, we can’t wait to come back and perform. For now though, it make sense to pivot and use our time to record even more music this fall. We’re unsure if that’ll mean a full LP or an EP, but we’ve actively been sharing ideas and keen to create more music.”

While the prospect of hearing more new music from the band is an exciting one, be assured that The Heavy Eyes and their booking agents are currently in the process of rescheduling a new run of dates for next year.

THE HEAVY EYES are:
Tripp Shumake
Wally Anderson
Matt Qualls
Eric Garcia

http://www.facebook.com/TheHeavyEyes
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The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines (2020)

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Dirty Streets Set July 31 Release for Rough and Tumble

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

dirty streets

I recall distinctly being bummed out in 2018 when Dirty Streets were getting ready to release their fifth LP, Distractions, and I never got to hear it for review. I did what I do in those cases, which is roll on to the next thing, but the Memphis three-piece have been undervalued since their outset as purveyors of heavy soul blues and, well, they’re fun to write about. That release was independent and their new one, Rough and Tumble, is a live-in-studio outing — you can hear “Can’t Go Back” from it below, and you absolutely should — which will be out July 31 on Alive Naturalsound. More often than not, I’m not cool enough to get their promos either. Woe, and such.

For what it’s worth, I just hopped on the Dirty Streets‘ Bandcamp to buy a copy of the CD — the stream of Distractions, also below, sounds awesome — and there are none left. None on Amazon either. One on Discogs for a $45 that seems prohibitive on the day my wife finds out about being furloughed at work. Serves me right. Next time I’ll have to listen to that FOMO impulse, I suppose.

Here’s news about the new one:

dirty streets rough and tumble

DIRTY STREETS – New album “Rough And Tumble” out 7/31/20

Check out the single “Can’t Go Back” here!

Scan the press on soul-groove outfit Dirty Streets and you’ll see numerous references to rock, soul, and dirty-blooze touchstones like the Faces, Humble Pie, Otis Redding, CCR and more. Spin Dirty Streets’ records and you’ll hear all of those echoes, plus others—some jazz timing, some acoustic balladry. But by and large, what you’ll hear is a raw, rowdy blend of Motown, Stax and rock—the pure American blood-beat moving through the heart of Memphis groove.

Austin-born Justin Toland (guitar/vocals) found his own musical food early through his father, a classic-rock aficionado who turned Justin on to the Stones, Creedence, soul music and the Stax sound. At 17 Toland moved to Memphis and met Thomas Storz (bass), a native of the city, through mutual friends; the pair found common musical ground and began playing groove-grounded rock with a series of temporary drummers. Andrew Denham (drums), a Shreveport-born drummer and British hard-rock fan, joined up with Storz and Toland in 2007.

The trio began demoing using a basic setup: a single cassette recorder, no tracks, no real separation, just mics on the bass/drums and guitar and vocals live in the room. Without the option to isolate, tweak or sweeten after the fact, Dirty Streets became accustomed to running through a take 40 or 50 times as they worked to get it right, all the way through. By the time they began gigging live, that level of discipline had honed Dirty Streets into an instinctual, responsive outfit. Bootleg recordings of their shows in and around Memphis helped to generate buzz, and established Dirty Streets’ rep as a band whose timing was as sharp as their sound was ragged.

Albums followed—Portrait of a Man (2009), Movements (2011), Blades of Grass (2013), White Horse (2015), Distractions (2018), and their forthcoming live effort Rough and Tumble, an LP drawn from an in-house performance for the DittyTV Americana music television network. All of these albums are steeped in the raw rock-soul groove that serves as the band’s taproot, the musical core from which all of its explorations still proceed. And within that core, too, is the element that gives their music, the music they love and play, its unique character.

Rough and Tumble includes eight positively explosive takes from three of the Memphis trio’s previous studio albums, and also features two meaty, revved-up covers by the great Joe South.

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Dirty Streets, “Can’t Go Back”

Dirty Streets, Distractions (2018)

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Days of Rona: Tripp Shumake of The Heavy Eyes

Posted in Features on April 29th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The statistics of COVID-19 change with every news cycle, and with growing numbers, stay-at-home isolation and a near-universal disruption to society on a global scale, it is ever more important to consider the human aspect of this coronavirus. Amid the sad surrealism of living through social distancing, quarantines and bans on gatherings of groups of any size, creative professionals — artists, musicians, promoters, club owners, techs, producers, and more — are seeing an effect like nothing witnessed in the last century, and as humanity as a whole deals with this calamity, some perspective on who, what, where, when and how we’re all getting through is a needed reminder of why we’re doing so in the first place.

Thus, Days of Rona, in some attempt to help document the state of things as they are now, both so help can be asked for and given where needed, and so that when this is over it can be remembered.

Thanks to all who participate. To read all the Days of Rona coverage, click here. — JJ Koczan

the heavy eyes tripp shumake

Days of Rona: Tripp Shumake of The Heavy Eyes (Memphis, Tennessee)

How are you dealing with this crisis as a band? Have you had to rework plans at all? How is everyone’s health so far?

Like much of the world, we’re taking it day by day. We’re fortunate that everyone is in good health, but with my medical condition I am at a higher risk and is top of mind for us all as we plan touring this year. Unfortunately our two US dates this year were canceled, but Stoned & Dusted has rescheduled for next year so we’re hoping to be out there in 2021. Regarding our EU tour this October, we are still booking dates and are hopeful this will come to fruition.

What are the quarantine/isolation rules where you are?

All major cities in Tennessee have ordered their residents to stay at home as well as the entire state of Colorado (where Eric resides). We’re allowed to be out to get essentials and exercise, but strongly advised to avoid gathering in groups.

How have you seen the virus affecting the community around you and in music?

The streets are much less populated and people are obviously panic-buying everything at the grocery. Bars and venues are closed so all live music is at a standstill. Fortunately, we’ve seen different initiatives such as Bandcamp waiving artist fees for 24 hours to Spotify working to add a fundraising feature tied to artist profiles.

What is the one thing you want people to know about your situation, either as a band, or personally, or anything?

We’re all healthy at the moment. Personally, we hope people are taking this seriously and understand that while you may not be at risk, those that are immunocompromised are.

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Review & Track Premiere: The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 20th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

The Heavy Eyes Love Like Machines

[Click play above to stream ‘Late Night’ from The Heavy Eyes’ Love Like Machines, out March 27 on Kozmik Artifactz. Preorders available here.]

It’s been quite a first decade for the ostensibly Memphis-based four-piece The Heavy Eyes, whose members actually reside at this point in different states and who careen through the riffs of their fourth long-player, Love Like Machines, with a sans-chicanery fluidity that totally undercuts that distance. By the time they got around to their last album, 2015’s He Dreams of Lions (review here), the then-trio had refined their approach to a remarkable degree, building off the methods and the successes of 2012’s Maera and 2011’s Heavy Eyes, as well as concurrent EPs and other short digital offerings, had toured to support their work and, crucially, had found an audience hungry for more.

And though they took part in Magnetic Eye Records‘ tribute to Jimi Hendrix (review here), also in 2015, and issued Live in Memphis (review here) in 2018, there’s no question that the five-year break between their third and fourth full-lengths changes the context in which Love Like Machines arrives. But fair enough. The band itself has also changed, bringing in longtime engineer Matthew Qualls — who has helmed each of their albums, including this one — on guitar and backing vocals as a fourth full-time member of the band alongside vocalist/guitarist Tripp Shumake, bassist Wally Anderson and drummer Eric Garcia, and recommitting themselves to the prospect of recording and touring as The Heavy Eyes.

Their sonic identity remains based around their songwriting, and though Qualls and Garcia both add percussion here and there, Shumake blends acoustic and electric guitar on opener “Anabasis,” and the later pair of “Bright Light” and the especially catchy fuzzer “A Cat Named Haku” dig into highlight low end and drum compression, the overarching impression Love Like Machines makes — the album’s title line delivered in side A’s “Late Night” — is one that can’t help but be considered straightforward with such a focus on structure and such tightness of their performance. The grooves swing and aren’t shy about it, and Shumake‘s vocals and Southern-tinged lyrical patterns can call to mind ClutchAll Them Witches and Valley of the Sun at any given moment — and that’s before you get to the hyper-Queens of the Stone Age vibes of the penultimate “Vera Cruz” (with guest piano by Carmen Fowlkes) — but if The Heavy Eyes are sending a message in this sharp-dressed 10-track/34-minute outing, it’s that they’re getting down to business.

I don’t know whether they’re feeling the weight of the five years it’s taken to manifest their fourth album or what, but beneath the right-on fuzz in the guitars, the good-times hooks of “Made for the Age” and “The Profession,” and the half-intro purpose “Anabasis” serves with its acoustic/electric blend, there’s a strong sense of purpose behind the songs on Love Like Machines, and an audience engagement that comes across as being as far from coincidental as you can get. These songs, written in parts exchanged digitally over state lines and recorded in more than one session with Qualls and guest guitar appearances from Justin Toland of Dirty Streets on “God Damn Wolf Man” and Justin Tracy, who also appeared on Live in Memphis, on “The Profession.”

the heavy eyes

The latter is of particular note as regards the idea of purpose in what The Heavy Eyes are doing on Love Like Machines, since the profession in question — at least somewhat contrary to where one’s mind might go in associating the title — is rock and roll itself, and that song is nothing if not an example of the band’s pro-shop presentation, crisp and assured in its delivery and interesting to the ear without a hint of indulgence on the part of its creators. Even “Hand of Bear,” which might earn a sideways glance for a verse line like, “Copper-color skin, so you’d best beware,” in recounting a story on a Native American theme, is maddeningly catchy — “Whoa, yeah yeah/Guess he earned his name as the Hand of Bear” becomes a signature hook, backing vocals and all.

It is not necessarily a revolutionary approach that The Heavy Eyes are taking, but neither are they directing themselves to the tenets of genre, instead shaping these to suit the needs of their songwriting. Craft is primary. “Made for the Age” is the longest inclusion at 4:51, and no other song on Love Like Machines even touches four minutes (“Vera Cruz” lists at 3:59), with “Late Night,” “God Damn Wolf Man” and “The Profession” under three. Yet none of these songs or the closer “Idle Hands” at 3:09 lack character or identity.

They are deceptively rich in their mix and able to shift in meter from one to the next while maintaining an overarching flow to the whole that gives the finale a due feeling of spaciousness after the departure of very-Cali departure of “Vera Cruz” and the standout choruses in “The Profession” and “A Cat Named Haku” earlier, and the deeper one digs into the proceedings, the more nuance one is likely to find even in songs that seem so straightforward in their initial purpose. Ultimately, questions of whether or not The Heavy Eyes will be able to gain back some of the momentum that the stretch since He Dreams of Lions may have taken away are secondary.

What matters here, as Love Like Machines expresses so plainly, are the songs themselves and the energy the band have put into constructing and recording them. They leave no question as to who they are as a band or what they want to be doing, and with a decade behind them, they stand mature in their approach but still hungry-seeming, still reaching out to the crowd in front of an imagined stage, still inviting everyone to take a step forward. It would be a hard invite to refuse, frankly, and if one thinks of Love Like Machines as a live set, then it’s pretty clear The Heavy Eyes put on a hell of a show. They’re doing their part here. It’s up to the listener now to get on board, but The Heavy Eyes have only made it as easy and as appealing as possible to do so. That’s all they can do. Well, that and tour like bastards.

The Heavy Eyes on Thee Facebooks

The Heavy Eyes on Instagram

The Heavy Eyes on Bandcamp

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The Heavy Eyes Announce March 27 Release for Love Like Machines

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 28th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

the heavy eyes

Note that there would be a big, big difference if Memphis heavy rockers The Heavy Eyes had titled their impending LP — which is called Love Like Machines and out March 27 on Kozmik Artifactz — with the first and second words reversed. It’s a more than fine line between “love like machines” and “like love machines.” Kudos to the four-piece for coming down on the correct side of that line.

It raised an eyebrow when The Heavy Eyes were among the first announcements for Keep it Low 2020 that there were clearly stirrings from the band and more in the works. First of all, that’s a Sound of Liberation fest, which means it’s probably not the only one they’ll play — Up in Smoke and Desertfest Belgium are both possibilities, and of course surrounding tour dates the amount of which depends on how long they’ll be over there. Second, if they’re going to make the trip, well, their last release was the 2018 live album, Live in Memphis (review here), and that was cool, but it’s not really an occasion two years later for a European tour. Their last studio outing was 2015’s He Dreams of Lions (review here), so between those factors, yeah, a new studio LP didn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation either.

If you wonder why I post every fest announcement that comes my way, it’s because CONTEXT.

So here we are, with Love Like Machines coming out in March. The PR wire has album details and there’s a song streaming at the bottom of this post:

the heavy eyes love machines

THE HEAVY EYES: Memphis Psychedelic Blues Rock Unit To Release Love Like Machines Full-Length March 27th Via Kozmik Artifactz; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Memphis-based psychedelic blues rock veterans, THE HEAVY EYES, will release their long-awaited new full-length, Love Like Machines, March 27th via Kozmik Artifactz.

Their fourth full-length and first new offering since 2015’s critically lauded He Dreams Of Lions, THE HEAVY EYES continues to deliver their fuzzed out, bluesy, hypnotic riffs, this time with the addition of long-time recording engineer, Matthew Qualls, as second guitarist. Adding a new layer of depth to their groove, Qualls — who’s worked side-by-side with THE HEAVY EYES for many years and has performed with them live in the past — enabled the band to collaborate in a different way exploring new song structures, tones, and attaining a bigger sound overall without stripping any of the grittiness and love of ’60s and ’70s rock that has shaped their sound since inception.

Despite the rabid reception of their first three albums however, Love Like Machines almost never existed. In 2017, the band was put on pause, with each member living in a different state. Spread across the Southwest and Midwest, there were new jobs, new cities, a marriage, and even a kidney disease diagnosis. In short, there was every indication that the pause might become permanent. But by 2019, THE HEAVY EYES had found a second wind and was actively working on new material, exchanging beats, licks, and lyrics long-distance. After two bouts of recording, the record is here, five years in the making.

The ten-track Love Like Machines was produced by Qualls in New Mexico and Memphis and comes shrouded in the kaleidoscopic cover art of Emil Orth.

Love Like Machines will by released digitally by the band with Kozmik Artifactz handling the vinyl edition this spring. In advance of its release, the band is pleased to unveil first album teaser “The Profession.” From the opening roll of the drums to the rip-roaring fuzz of the chorus, THE HEAVY EYES delivers a walloping testament to their take-no-prisoners ethos.

Find Love Like Machines digital preorders at THIS LOCATION where “The Profession” can be streamed.

Love Like Machines Track Listing:
1. Anabasis
2. Made For The Age
3. Hand Of Bear
4. Late Night
5. God Damn Wolf Man
6. Bright Light
7. A Cat Named Haku
8. The Profession
9. Vera Cruz
10. Idle Hands

THE HEAVY EYES is currently booking a European tour for early October 2020 and will appear at Keep It Low Festival in München, Germany with more dates to be announced in the weeks to come.

THE HEAVY EYES Live:
10/09-10/2020 Keep It Low Festival – München, DE

THE HEAVY EYES:
Tripp Shumake – lead vocals, acoustic/electric guitar
Matthew Qualls – electric guitar, percussion, backing vocals
Wally Anderson – bass guitar
Eric Garcia – drums/percussion

Guests:
Justin Toland – guitar tracking, solo (“God Damn Wolf Man”)
Justin Tracy – guitar solo (“The Profession”)
Carmen Fowlkes – piano (“Vera Cruz”)

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The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines (2020)

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