Ivy Garden of the Desert, Blood is Love: Midnight at the Oasis

Posted in Reviews on September 4th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

At six tracks/33 minutes, Blood is Love has all the flow between its songs that one could ask of a full-length, but it is nonetheless the darker second in a trilogy of EPs from Italian stoner rockers Ivy Garden of the Desert. That they’re heavily indebted to the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age/Desert Sessions sphere of heavy shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – they had much the same influence on the prior Docile EP (review here), also released by Nasoni, and they do have “desert” in their name – but the Montebelluna three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Diego, bassist Paolo and drummer Andrea set their own mood within that scope, not really veering too far from what one might expect, but keeping a humble kind of individuality in the tracks. That proves increasingly true the closer they get to the finale, “Glicine,” but even with the more active beginning that “Viscera” – would it be too much to call it “gutsy?” – provides, they remain melodically aware. In that, Blood is Love is consistent with Docile, though the latest is perhaps even more cohesive in terms of style. There’s an element of the brooding in Diego’s singing, his accent adding to it as the lyrics are in English, and that fits the laid-back grooving in the riffs as well, though the separation in the mix between guitar, bass and drums is prevalent, and though the EP ends with a sample of a tape spinning out, it sounds much more like a digital recording. Whether it is or not, I don’t know – information is sparse – but that’s how it sounds to my ears, anyway, with a decent amount of compression on Andrea’s kit and the guitars and bass alike. The mix was my chief issue last time around, with Diego’s vocals high and cutting through, and to an extent that remains true with Blood is Love, but the instruments stand up to the singing, whether it’s the Songs for the Deaf-style speed riffing of the opener or the punchy bass of “A Golden Rod for This Virgin,” the second track which seems to have long ago passed the “Welcome to Sky Valley” highway sign.

Without lyrics or some general statement of intent beyond the basic knowledge that Ivy Garden of the Desert are working on a trilogy of which Blood is Love is the middle, more aggressive piece, it’s hard to say what exactly it is tying the releases together beyond the basic aesthetic and desert atmosphere, but if that’s it, at least there’s plenty to work with. They’re obviously aware of the genre they’re working in, and where much of the European heavy psych and stoner scene seems to be pushing toward tonally warm jamming, Ivy Garden of the Desert never feel out of control in these tracks, even as the cyclical tom work and start-stop riffing of “A Golden Rod for this Virgin” gives way to its building second half. There’s an open feeling in the tonality, but the songs remain structured, even if it’s just one part into the next. It flows. The songs within themselves flow and the tracks each into the other, though again, if they were written to purposefully serve some overarching whole, I don’t know. It does make the EP an easier listen that it otherwise might be, though. The instrumental “Weasel in Poultry Skin” continues the desert-minded push of the first two cuts, working in some vague Helmet influence both in its intro and later start-stop moments while also avoiding any vocal mix issues, but even here, Blood is Love offers little clue as to what it’s about. They remain aligned to genre, but push the line somewhat with “Ghost Station,” furthering the start-stop guitar that’s been present all along to the absolute fore, both Andrea and Paolo joining Diego in mutes and thuds. The song introduces itself with a jangly guitar, and that comes in again at the end with a more active bassline, but the crux of it is a series of single hits that don’t seem to develop a dynamic build, staying on a kind of repetitive plateau that, coupled with Diego’s moody, bottom-of-the-mouth vocals, begins quickly to smack of nü-metal. One might also point to that as a post-Helmet facet of the band’s sound, but it’s the melody that makes the difference. It sounded like nü-metal when Page Hamilton started singing too.

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Arenna Want to Go for a Ride in New Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 12th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Released last year by Nasoni, the debut full-length from Spanish rockers Arenna, Beats of Olarizu (review here), was warm and engaging. It seems like the five-piece took those ideas to heart. They’ll be playing Stoned from the Underground in Germany this weekend (more info at their Facebook), and to mark the occasion, they’ve just released their first video, for the song “Fall of the Crosses.”

And in it, basically what you get is a bike ride. Popping a tape (awesome) into a Walkman (I totally had that same one; I bought it at Caldor), our friendly beardo protagonist presses play to start the song and soon sets off on a ride through what looks like beautiful rural Spain, winding up at a garage where — well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that the video, though simple, is an excellent extension of the unpretentious wholesomeness the band put forth on the album. Here’s hoping they kill it in Germany this weekend.

Enjoy “Fall of the Crosses”:

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Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine: This Space, Getting Deeper

Posted in Reviews on March 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

When last we checked in with German heavy psych jammers Electric Moon, they had released the limited live recording, Flaming Lake, on guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt’s own Sulatron Records. Like the rest of the trio’s output, that album was comprised of massive, extended space rock jams, recorded live and venturing out into improvised reaches where few dare to tread after someone’s pressed ‘record.’ Their follow-up, released either by or in cooperation with Nasoni Records, is the studio full-length The Doomsday Machine, an album that pushes their already expansive sound into new territories. The jam is the center of what they do – always. The interaction and chemistry between Schmidt, bassist Komet Lulu (who also handles vocals and the band’s gorgeous hand-drawn artwork; the cover for The Doomsday Machine is a painting by Ulla Papel, her father) and drummers Alex and Pablo Carneval remains the core of the band here, though since it’s Alex on the opening title-track and Carneval on the other four inclusions, I’d hazard the guess that the first song is the newest and the remaining cuts are older – Alex replaced Carneval on drums last year. In any case, Electric Moon’s überjams have taken on new and engaging personality here, whether it’s Komet Lulu’s bass shining through on the heavy grooving “Stardust Service” (19:46) or the darker, near-Ufomammut tube-driven push of the final moments of “Doomsday Machine” (19:37).

If you didn’t note those runtimes, I’ll repeat them: “Stardust Service” is 19:46 and “Doomsday Machine” starts the album off at 19:37. “Kleiner Knaller,” the second cut, is the shortest by far at 5:17, and “Spaceman” follows at 13:17 and closer “Feigenmonolog” tops out at 21:44. Electric Moon jam until the tape stops. Their sound is warm, their methods helping to set the new-European space rock tradition, and increasingly, their songs are becoming pivotal within that sphere. The Doomsday Machine (also the name of a Star Trek episode) is the best yet of their work that I’ve encountered – limited live CDR releases abound and are quickly sold out – thanks in large part to Komet Lulu’s vocals, which, while utterly spaced out and often buried under a heap of effects, amp noise, distortion, etc., help ground the songs and let you know that there are people in there somewhere making this music and it hasn’t just emanated from some kind of portal to another dimension. Left to your own devices alone with the stonerized otherwordliness of “Feigenmonolog,” you might be inclined to believe otherwise. Schmidt’s guitar is a multi-directional typhoon of tone, and this material, new or old, seems to warm its way from out of the speakers. Sleepy grooves meet with interstellar building – see “Kleiner Knaller” – and periodic but still unpredictable freakouts remind that you could wind up anywhere the band wants you to be on a given path. The music is potent, smells like outside, and shines a brighter light than either the title or the cover would have you believe.

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Ivy Garden of the Desert, Docile: The Expanding Horizon

Posted in Reviews on September 8th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Released first by the band in a limited CD pressing of 99 copies and subsequently picked up by prestigious Europsych purveyors Nasoni Records for wider issue on CD and vinyl, the Docile EP by North Italian trio Ivy Garden of the Desert relies just as much on drifting sonic spaciousness as it does on riffy crunch. The four-song release (at 38 minutes, it could either be an EP or full-length, so take your pick – I call it EP because they do) doesn’t break any real stylistic ground, but it does show an ambient patience and reverence for American-style desert stillness that a lot of the European contingent misses out on in either their riff-led or psychedelic swirling. The vocals of guitarist Diego will sound curious to American ears, perhaps owing to a combination of the six-stringer’s accented English and a bottom-of-the-mouth delivery that comes off at times sounding like something more out of commercial rock. Vocals are relatively sparse, however, and though 10-minute closer “I” begins with a throaty growl that swells in the speakers, there’s next to nothing abrasive about Docile and Ivy Garden of the Desert are far more concerned with melodic sprawl, which suits them well.

The band formed in 2008 and Docile sounds like a product of discovery on their part, but listening to Paolo’s echoing bass that begins opener “Ivy,” soon accompanied by Diego’s wavy guitar lines and the subtle tom work of Andrea, it’s easy to imagine the players seated in a jam room figuring out their parts on the fly. They soon settle into the groove that will carry them through the intro of “Ivy”’s nine minutes, gradually developing the track for the first three and a half minutes before everything drops out and Diego introduces a fuzzy, Fu Manchu-style riff that carries through the rest of the song. The guitar is in the lead role, not surprisingly, but Diego offers some clever layering and drawn-out solos that effectively give a sense of improvisation. Paolo peaks early in that the final minutes of “Ivy” feature Docile’s best bass lines, but still has plenty to contribute as the EP wears on, including the large role he plays in setting the darker tone of “Enchanting Odyssey,” following Andrea’s stick-clicks and foundational bass drum while Diego echoes a lead across the wide aural berth. The second cut of the four is also the longest at 11:14, and the first with vocals (they come on about two minutes in and appropriate room is made for them, but one never gets the sense in listening to Docile that they’re the priority), Diego’s voice sounding more derived from the influences noted above than on the later, more progressive “I.”

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Sky Picnic, Farther in This Fairy Tale: Seeking, Hiding, Decoding

Posted in Reviews on August 9th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Brooklyn trio Sky Picnic originally self-released their debut full-length, Farther in This Fairy Tale, on CD in 2010. Now picked up by respectable German purveyors of all things spaced and psyched, Nasoni Records, a remixed and reshuffled version of Farther in This Fairy Tale is given the vinyl treatment. The differences between the two versions are substantial but not necessarily landmark – and by that I mean if you, like me, prefer CDs to other media, you’ll still find that version of the record a satisfying listen – but the mix of the vinyl edition is fuller and brighter, more suited to Sky Picnic’s style, which rests somewhere just underneath the all-out lushness of some of their European peers, but still too echoing and rich to be in line with the stripped-down minimalism of some American psych. The track listings of the two editions of the album are also different, with an edited version of extended cut “The Universal Mind Decoder” (cut all the way from 12 minutes to 11) appearing later on Side B of the vinyl than it does on the CD and the download-only inclusion of two bonus tracks at the very end, the first a two and a half minute ambient title cut and the second the open-spaced yet percussive “Warren,” which seems to lift its head only for the chorus before dipping back into the effects-laden murk of its breaks.

What’s reportedly a concept album about aging and the human condition begins appropriately enough with the hooky, child-like sprawl of “Hide and Seek,” a relatively straightforward structure complemented by the gentle vocals of guitarist Chris Sherman, whose layered, laid back melodicism leads the way for much of Farther in This Fairy Tale. Joined in Sky Picnic by bassist/vocalist Leah Cinnamon and Pete Meriwether, who handles drums and other percussion, Sherman weaves not so much a narrative about one person’s life journey as a thematic excursion lyrically, set to summery tones that, even in their darkest moments – there are some stretches in “The Universal Mind Decoder” that feel bleak, and the bluesy lead of pre-bonus-track album-proper closer “White Plane (Reprise)” has a wistfulness to it – never veer too far from the bright yellows and oranges on the overall spectrum. The later-titularly-reprised “White Plane” finds them loosening the approach some from the opener, but still keeping to the verse/chorus approach; the album’s gradual unfolding matching the stated concept it’s working from.

In that regard, pushing “The Universal Mind Decoder” to later on the record for the vinyl release all the more an appropriate move, since that song seems to be the culmination to which tracks like “Marker 25, 27” and “Seven,” (the curious thing about the former is that “White Plane (Reprise),” while actually titled after the preceding cut, actually reprises the choral themes first brought up here) are building. They’re engaging in their own right, and certainly more than just steps on the way to Farther in This Fairy Tale’s grander statement, but Sky Picnic set up a cohesive linear flow as well, no matter how well the mellotron and sitar sounds or “Seven” stand on their own as they fade out and lead to the more distorted guitar from Sherman on “Abbie’s Bike Ride.” The tone is thicker than the semi-acoustic “Seven,” but the reverbed wah swirls still make up a good portion of Sky Picnic’s overall aesthetic, and the mood they present is consistent. The mellotron returns for “Going Mad in Cambridge,” residing deep in the mix and sitting well alongside Cinnamon’s bass tone in the chorus. As grand as “The Universal Mind Decoder,” which follows, is, “Going Mad in Cambridge” shows the most melodic awareness and presents Sky Picnic’s best blend of psychedelic exploration and memorable songwriting, and is worthy of any late-‘60s/early-’70s comparison you could want to make.

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Arenna, Beats of Olarizu: Life in the Age of Neospace

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2011 by JJ Koczan

The last couple years have seen the rise of a new school in European heavy psychedelia. Taking influence as much from acts like Colour Haze, Dozer and 35007 as they took in turn from Kyuss and their desert ilk, bands like Samsara Blues Experiment and Sungrazer have been able to forge a new wave of heavy jamming that relies just as much on spontaneous-sounding interplay between band members as it does on warm, Orange-hued low end and fuzzy stoner rock riffs. The effect is often hypnotic and engaging, and with their Nasoni Records debut, Beats of Olarizu, Spanish outfit Arenna join the forerunners of the style. The two-guitar five-piece formed in 2005 and recorded Beats of Olarizu over the course of four days (two in May, two in September) last year, resulting in a CD that stretches 68 minutes and a double vinyl that’s even longer – three more tracks – of Billy Anderson-mastered psychedelic expanse. Information is minimal on who does what, but the band is comprised of Guille, Javi, Txus, Kike (that’s a listed name, no offense intended in its use here) and R. Ruiz with several guests throughout contributing synth and Hammond on later cuts like “The Strangest of Lives,” “Eclipse” and the sprawling CD closer “Metamorphosis in Ic (0.9168 g/cm3).”

Four out of the six CD tracks also feature guest vocals from Jony Moreno of fellow Spanish rockers The Soulbreaker Company, but as the first three of Beats of Olarizu’s cuts are more straightforward structurally, the album really is one that unfolds gradually as you listen to it. Opener “Morning Light” is longer than the two songs that follow, “Receiving the Liquid Writings” and “Fall of the Crosses,” but its slow amplifier hum intro and lead nonetheless into an upfront verse/chorus that reminds vocally a bit of an accented Goatsnake in the verses. “Morning Light” appropriately sets the tone of Arenna’s methodology to come over the subsequent material, but more even than that, it shows one of the band’s great strengths immediately to be in its rhythm section. The guitars are fuzzed out and the vocals are melodic – and, with the addition of Moreno, more intricately arranged than one might initially think – but the bass and drums are driving the song almost as soon as it kicks in. That holds true on “Receiving the Liquid Writings” as well, but perhaps most of all on the bouncy “Fall of the Crosses,” which is the shortest cut here at 5:26 and finds the bass taking lead setting a funky rhythm that III-era The Atomic Bitchwax might have concocted had they been so inclined. It’s a classic rock shuffle, and after the more directly riff-led “Receiving the Liquid Writings,” one of Beats of Olarizu’s refreshing changes of pace.

And while that’s true, there’s no question that the more individualized material on Beats of Olarizu comes in the second half of the album’s track list. “Eclipse” develops slowly with sampled nature sounds, acoustic guitar and Hammond organ, the electric guitars beginning to subtly wind their way into the mix only after three of the total near-12 minutes, taking the hold just before the four-minute mark. Even then, the song has a confidence in its open feel that I didn’t get from “Fall of the Crosses” or “Morning Light,” that Arenna are comfortable as a unit to ride out the bass line and let the synth fill out their sound, the guitars adding echoing notes here and there to highlight the sparseness. Rightly, “Eclipse” relegates vocals to almost an afterthought; they arrive with a chorus after six minutes in and soon enough are swallowed up for another three minutes of solid riff-led jamming before making another appearance with the aforementioned chorus lines, which in turn give way again to the guitars and the close of the song. Without knowing how the tracks are arranged across the two LPs of the vinyl edition, I’ll say “Eclipse” feels like an apex of Beats of Olarizu and could easily carry the responsibility of capping off a side and/or disc on its own.

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Wo Fat Interview with Kent Stump: Modern Man Goes Head First into the Bayou Juju, Lives to Jazz it up Another Day

Posted in Features on March 4th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Okay. You’re a heavy rock trio from Dallas, and you’ve put out two albums on Brainticket Records, each better than the last. You’ve got a decent buzz about you and your name is starting to ring out from the small but tight-knit scene you occupy.

Time to start blowing minds.

Or so it would seem has been the decision of Wo Fat, whose third album, Noche del Chupacabra, has been a first-quarter highlight of 2011. The full-length was released back in January via German esoterica purveyors Nasoni Records, and it’s a maddeningly potent blend of fuzz crunch, psych wonder and low-end groove. A step beyond the already-masterful second LP, Psychedelonaut (2009), Noche del Chupacabra sees Wo Fat range even further into the realm of solo improvisation — never losing sight of the song in the process, as so many do. Built from four tracks and an extended instrumental titular jam, Noche del Chupacabra is shorter, meaner and Wo Fat at their most lethal yet.

Somehow, though, in the process of trimming down the runtime from nearly 72 minutes to Noche del Chupacabra‘s vinyl-ready 46, the songs got bigger. Not necessarily longer, but they do more. The parts work harder. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, who also recorded the album, leads Wo Fat with vibrant and spontaneous soloing, backed by the weighted rhythm section of bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter. Their influences concoct a familiar brew of hard-hitting ’70s rock turned fuzz bastardry, but like the best of the new generation of Heavy bands — Lo-Pan comes to mind as a contemporary comparison point — Wo Fat teach old dog riffage the new trick of kicking your ass.

Tracks like “Descent into the Maelstrom” and “Common Ground” blend the catchy choruses of Psychedelonaut‘s high-point material with Stump‘s increasing focus on a live-sounding presentation. In the interview that follows, the guitarist discusses his ethic going into recording Noche del Chupacabra, the process by which Wo Fat writes their songs, signing the deal with Nasoni, the source of his jazz influence, and much, much more.

Unabridged Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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The :Egocentrics, Center of the Cyclone: Chasing the Storm

Posted in Reviews on February 14th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It’s been a productive several months for Romanian power trio The :Egocentrics. The Timisoara band’s debut, Love Fear Choices and Astronauts (review here), earned them a deal with German psych juggernaut Nasoni Records, they played numerous shows, and apparently somehow found time to write and record their new sophomore outing, Center of the Cyclone, showing remarkable growth in the process. Their sound is still aligned to the jammy side of the international desert rock scene – bands like Colour Haze, My Sleeping Karma and earlier Los Natas providing reference points – but compared to the debut, this vinyl-ready seven-song, 40-minute outing feels much more accomplished, structured and self-assured. It’s still the same band, the same players involved, but there’s a newfound sense of purpose behind what they’re doing, as though they’ve found the sound they want to execute and now have the prowess and chemistry to make it happen.

And don’t get me wrong, I liked Love Fear Choices and Astronauts. I’m not about to start slagging that record in favor of Center of the Cyclone, but it’s a different breed of the same animal. The songs here – still completely instrumental, still led mostly by guitarist Brenn with sampled or spoken vocals mixed into the ambience – are more complete in terms of ideology. They’re not just jams, but actively trying to evoke an atmosphere. Right from opener “A Road Less Travelled,” which features the organ work of Mihai Toma, who also recorded Center of the Cyclone this past fall, The :Egocentrics sound calmer, more confident and solid all around. The pastoral feel continues through the more active “Off the Center,” which is the longest song on the album at just over eight minutes. Drummer Hera and bassist Jess give the guitars plenty of room without losing sight of the rhythm at work, and their space-charged ring-outs and crashes lend a surprisingly epic feel where otherwise “A Road Less Travelled” would just fizzle.

Brenn’s guitar offers newfound lyricism on “Sink or Swim,” which is perhaps the cut most reminiscent of NatasDelmar or Ciudad de Brahman, Mihai Toma again contributing, this time on electric piano and spoken vocals. The :Egocentrics keep a lively feel to their approach across the entirety of Center of the Cyclone, but contrary to the album’s name, it’s not all whirlwind and craziness. Rather, the band incorporate a variety of moods and vibes, the wistful fuzz of “Sink or Swim” being just one of them, and balanced immediately by centerpiece track “Blissful Idiot,” which is faster, near-punkish in its percussion and about the most straightforwardly stoner rock song the trio have on offer. The back-and-forth interplay between more subdued and active material works because The :Egocentrics don’t just rely on “riff and crash” as a formula for either. Rather, the parts of which these songs are constructed are intricate and well developed, their changes subtle and warm without being trite or redundant stylistically. If Brenn, Hera and Jess sounded genuine in their affection for psychedelia before, now they sound completely at home in it as well.

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