Friday Full-Length: Stone Axe, I

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Those who cite retro heavy rock as a European-only phenomenon have obviously never dug into Stone Axe‘s 2009 debut, Stone Axe I. The album, with its striking, vinyl-ready cover art and 10-track/38-minute run, was created with the express mission of paying homage to heavy ’70s rock and roll. And that’s precisely what it did, capturing the warmth of production and a live-in-the-studio feel that remains one of the best American executions of the style regardless of the band’s seemingly permanent dissolution. With the hooks of songs like “Black Widow,” opener “Riders of the Night,” “The Skylah Rae” and “There’d Be Days,” Stone Axe proffered memorable craft the whole time through, keeping a mellow groove beneath even its most active moments despite changes in instrumentation and mood. Live, the band included the rhythm section of bassist Mike DuPont and drummer Mykey Haslip, but in the studio it was just vocalist Dru Brinkerhoff and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Tony Reed.

If the latter name is familiar, it should be. Reed partnered with Brinkerhoff and launched Stone Axe after putting his prior outfit, Mos Generator, to rest in indefinite-hiatus style following 2007’s Songs for Future Gods, which, like Stone Axe I, was released through Roadburn Records. Mos Generator‘s own classic heavy rock influence was one thing, but Stone Axe brought it to another level entirely. Listening to the Led Zeppelin-style blast of “Sky is Falling” and the telltale Thin Lizzy bounce of the subsequent “There’d Be Days” — as well as that in closer “Taking Me Home” — Stone Axe did nothing to mask the direct lines they drew to titans of ’70s heavy, in the Mellotron finish of “My Darkest Days” and the infuriatingly catchy blues rocker “Black Widow,” the band evoked a sense of melancholy beneath a harder-driving atmosphere, but the album never lost its sense of class either in theme or delivery. “The Skylah Rae” told a tale of humans leaving Earth on a giant ship that shared its name with the title, and side B brought about some considerable turns in momentum, whether it was the boogie of “Rhinoceros” or the swagger of “Diamonds and Fools.” Penultimate groover “Return of the Worm” brought a perfectly-paced rhythmic nod to bear and topped it with Brinkerhoff‘s boozy vocals, which were no less classic than any other element put to use, be it instrument or production. The dude absolutely killed on vocals. Just nailed it.

And in many ways, it’s the Brinkerhoff/Reed partnership that’s essential to understand when it comes to Stone Axe. stone axe iConsider that, at that point, Reed was coming off playing guitar and handling vocals in Mos Generator, and that he was also prone to not only recording the band’s albums but releasing them as well. I don’t know who penned the lyrics for Stone Axe, but even if he did, for Reed to step out of the frontman position and relinquish that to anyone else must have been a significant sacrifice for a band that was still ostensibly his as he was writing the songs and playing guitar, bass, drums and whatever else. Stone Axe was a significant turn away from Mos Generator precisely because Reed brought Brinkerhoff on board as the vocalist in order to better capture that classic rock feel, which, again Brinkerhoff‘s voice seemed to be made to bring to life.

And speaking of life, how about those live-recorded tracks on Stone Axe I, huh? Well, no. It would’ve been impossible with just Reed handling all the instruments. Natural sounding cuts like “My Darkest Days” and “Diamonds and Fools,” that easy groove in “Black Widow” and “The Skylah Rae” would’ve had to have been tracked one instrument at a time — probably the drums first, then bass, guitar and whatever keys after. Then Brinkerhoff would be able to sing over the final tracks. Yet Stone Axe I in no way sounds pieced together in this way. It sounds like players in a room hashing it out. Stone Axe I did a better job capturing a live feel than a lot of albums that are recorded live, and it’s a credit to Reed as a producer that that was the case. The material lends itself to an organic vibe, to be sure, but it would’ve been easy for the songs to come out staid and lifeless, and they’re anything but.

Like its 2010 follow-up, Stone Axe II (review here), Stone Axe I was reissued via Ripple Music after Reed signed with the label in 2010. I got to write the liner notes for the second record. A slew of releases were hinted at in that announcement, including a third full-length — which at one point they even started writing — but the band’s last studio outing would be a split with Germany’s Wight on Fat & Holy Records in 2012, the same year Ripple put out both Stone Axe‘s Captured Live! Roadburn Festival 2011 and Mos Generator‘s return long-player, Nomads (review here), the success of which effectively relaunched that band, which would go on to revamp its lineup and become the full-time touring act they remain until now. In the meantime, Reed channeled his love of classic heavy into a solo covers release called The Lost Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Vol. 1 in 2015, which he’s newly pressed onto CD ahead of a quick run of Midwestern Mos Generator shows next month that will take them to the Stoned Meadow of Doom festival.

Though a third Stone Axe album would never manifest, it’s somehow all the more fitting that, like so much of the ’70s heavy rock movement that inspired them it would be somewhat cut short only to have the two albums go on to become cult classics as they have and no doubt will continue to do. Would I ever say never on a Stone Axe resurgence? Never. But with Mos Generator topping tour bills and playing gigs like the Main Stage at Hellfest in France, one could hardly argue Reed‘s time continues to be anything other than well spent. Stone Axe was what it was, and I’m glad there are the records to document that, because it’s worth preserving.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Goodness gracious. Was it enough week for you? It was definitely enough for me. I feel like my head’s still spinning from the Quarterly Review. I have a ritual I undertake every time I finish one of those where I clear the folders off my desktop — they go in my Albums folder — and delete the header because I’m not going to use it again, and I don’t even think I have the energy to do it. Maybe tomorrow, though probably not.

My plan for tonight is to go see Sasquatch at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. I’m hemming and hawing and of course everything depends on the baby, so we’ll see. If I leave at seven I’ll get to Brooklyn by 9, blah blah blah. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I can get my ass out of the house. Tomorrow morning it’s a drive north to Connecticut and then seeing Backwoods Payback in New London. Then Sunday it’s back to New York for Bible of the Devil. As of right now I want to hit all three shows. Next weekend I want to do the same thing. Three shows, three nights in a row, and then that’s probably my quota for the rest of the year, surprise YOB gigs if there are any and Psycho Las Vegas notwithstanding.

Depending on what I actually get to — this is an ambitious plan, I recognize — is the schedule for next week, but here’s the notes as they stand now:

Mon.: Sasquatch live review/Arcadian Child premiere.
Tue.: Backwoods Payback live review; CB3 video premiere.
Wed.: Bible of the Devil live review; Lurk track premiere.
Thu.: Sergio Ch. video premiere.
Fri. Forming the Void premiere/review.

That’s a lot of live reviews for one week. Feels like even more coming off a Quarterly Review. But again, I’m going to try. If it doesn’t pan out, there are always plenty of albums to be written up.

Thanks for reading this week if you did, and either way, please have a great and safe weekend. Maybe I’ll see you at a show. I hope so.

All the best. Forum and Radio.

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On Wax: Teepee Creeper / Mos Generator Split 7″

Posted in On Wax on June 6th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

I had some pretty high expectations for Teepee Creeper coming into their split 7″ single with Mos Generator in no small part because the latter band’s most recent split with a Washington-based heavy rock band found them aligned to Ancient Warlocks, whose subsequent self-titled debut offered thrills aplenty. It’s intriguing to think Mos Gen guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed — who also recorded Teepee Creeper‘s included track, “Galactic Oblivion” — might be endorsing newcomer acts in such a subtle way, and Teepee Creeper justify the backing with a steady rolling groove on “Galactic Oblivion,” open-sounding and large but not over the top, somewhere between Wo Fat and Goatsnake‘s deceptively catchy stonerisms.

The blend will ring familiar to heavy riff heads, and Reed‘s production preserves a natural vibe that suits the three-piece well, guitarist/vocalist Jon Unruh‘s double-tracked voice switching from a gutty verse delivery to a cleaner chorus and back fluidly over Jeremy Deede‘s bass and Will Armacost‘s drums. A “sky god” is liberally invoked throughout the five-minute push, but there’s a sense of build within the song as well and if you told me two years from now that this split was Teepee Creeper‘s launch point for a solid string of output, I’d believe it. Between Unruh, Deede and Armacost, Teepee Creeper is nobody’s first band, and accordingly, they sound like they know what they want to do and are setting about making that happen.

A couple interesting cuts from Mos Generator on side B. As the included liner explains, the Nirvana cover “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” — which was originally streamed here in 2012 — was recorded in 2008 for a tribute compilation that never surfaced, and “Downer Rock ’89” was a song originally called “Daisy Buckle” that came together in 1989 working heavily under the influence of what was then Seattle’s nascent grunge movement. Reed, bassist Scooter Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson rerecorded it in 2013, so they’re not bringing out old demos — presumably that’s saved for the recently-undertaken Heavy Home Grown release series — but it’s easy to hear the stylistic hallmarks of that era, however much of Mos Generator‘s modern persona factors in alongside.

As an introduction to Teepee Creeper and a fan piece for Mos Generator, the split — out through Music Abuse Records — gets a surprising amount done in its just-over-10-minute runtime. Art on the sleeve by Sean Schock for the A-side, a few vintage Mos Generator pics on back and the aforementioned liner round out the package, and while it’s a quick release, it’s also one you might wind up flipping back and forth a few times in a row to get a feel for how the two bands work together. Not to spoil it, but they work pretty well.

Teepee Creeper, “Galactic Oblivion”

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