Quarterly Review: Papir, Kosmodemonic, Steve Von Till, Sex Blender, Déhà, Thunder Horse, Rebreather, Melmak, Astral Magic, Crypt Monarch

Posted in Reviews on July 6th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-fall-2016-quarterly-review

Day two already, huh? It’s a holiday week here in the States, which means people are on vacation or have at least enjoyed a long weekend hopefully without blowing any body parts off with fireworks or whatnot. For me, I prefer the day on rather than the day off, so we proceeded as normal yesterday in beginning the Quarterly Review. “We now return to our regularly scheduled,” and so on.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, as one would hope, and since we’re still basically at the start of this doublewide edition of the Quarterly Review — 10 down, 90 to go — I won’t delay further. Thanks for reading.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Papir, Jams

papir jams

Two sessions, three days apart, three pieces from each, resulting in six tracks running just about 80 minutes that Papir are only within their rights to have titled simply as Jams. With this outing, the Copenhagen-based psychedelic trio present their process at its most nakedly exploratory. I don’t know if they had any parts pre-planned when they went into the studio, but the record brims with spontaneity, drums jazzing out behind shimmering guitar and steadily grooving basslines. Effects are prevalent and add to the spaciousness, and the sessions from whence these songs came, whether it’s the key-led four-minute “20.01.2020 #2” or the 20-minute opener “17.01.2020 #1” — all tracks sharing the same date-and-number format as regards titles — feel vibrant and fluid in a way that goes beyond even the hazy hypnotics of “20.01.2020 #3.” Papir‘s instrumental dynamic is of course a huge part of what they do anyway, but to hear their chemistry come through in freer fashion as it does here can only be refreshing. I hope they do more like this.

Papir on Facebook

Stickman Records website

 

Kosmodemonic, Liminal Light

Kosmodemonic Liminal Light

Brooklyn outfit Kosmodemonic exist almost exclusively within genre border regions. Their second album, Liminal Light, fosters an approach that’s too considered not to be called progressive, but that owes as much to the cosmic doom of YOB as to black metal as to noise rock as to Voivod as to any number of other various ores in the metallic sphere. In their sprinting moments or in the consuming dark grandeur of centerpiece “Ipomoea,” they are pointedly individual, and cuts like “Drown in Drone” and the later slammer “Brown Crown” owe much to sheer impact as to the cerebral underpinnings of their angularity. Liminal Light is vicious but methodical, and feels executed with a firm desire to catch the audience sleeping and then blindside them with a change, be it in moving from one song to another or within one song itself, like when the penultimate “Chains of Goddess Grove” rears back from its lurching movement and spews thrashier fire in its final minute. Put these moments together and you get a record that challenges on multiple levels and is unflinchingly worth the effort of close engagement.

Kosmodemonic on Facebook

Transylvanian Tapes on Bandcamp

 

Steve Von Till, A Deep Voiceless Wilderness

Steve Von Till A Deep Voiceless Wilderness

The sixth solo offering from Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till is a first for being completely instrumental. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — goes that Von Till wrote the music for 2020’s No Wilderness Deep Enough (review here) late during jetlagged nights alone on his wife’s family’s property in Germany, where her family has lived for 500 years, only to later be convinced by producer Randall Dunn to write lyrics and record vocals for the songs. A Deep Voiceless Wilderness, as the title hints, pulls those vocals back out of these re-named pieces, allowing elements like the quiet textures of keyboard and piano, horns and mellotrons to shine through in atmospheric fashion, layers of drone intertwining in mostly peaceful fashion. It is the least guitar-based record Von Till has ever done, and allows for a new kind of minimalism to surface along with an immersive melodic hum. Subdued, meditative, exploratory, kind of wonderful.

Steve Von Till website

Neurot Recordings store

 

Sex Blender, Studio Session I

Sex Blender Studio Session I

Based in Lviv, Ukraine, instrumentalist krautrock bizarros Sex Blender have two full-lengths behind them, and Studio Session I takes the consumingly fuzzed “Diver” from 2018’s Hormonizer and three cuts from 2020’s The Second Coming and turns them into a stirring 44-minute set captured on video for a livestream. Reportedly some of the arrangements are different, as will certainly happen, but as someone being introduced to the band through this material, it’s easy to be struck by the palpable sense of glee with which Sex Blender present their songs. “Crimson Master” is the shortest of the bunch at just over six minutes — it’s the only one under 11 — but even there, the manipulated keyboard sounds, drum fluidity and undercurrent of rumbling distortion push Sex Blender into a place that’s neither doom nor prog but draws from both, crawling where the subsequent “Rave Spritz” can’t help but bounce with its motorik drums and intertwined synth lines. May just be a live session, but they shine all the same.

Sex Blender on Facebook

Drone Rock Records website

 

Déhà, Cruel Words

Déhà Cruel Words

Déhà‘s third long-player Cruel Words was originally issued in 2019 and is seeing a first vinyl pressing on Burning World Records. The Brussels solo outfit has released no fewer than 17 other full-length outings — possibly more, depending on what counts as what — in the two years since these songs initially surfaced, but, well, one has to start someplace. The 2LP runs 75 minutes and includes bonus tracks — an acoustic version of opener “I Am Mine to Break,” a cover of The Gathering‘s “Saturnine” and the piano-into-post-metal “Comfort Me II” — but the highlights are on the album itself, such as the make-Amenra-blush 12-minute crux of “Dead Butterflies,” wherein a lung-crushing weight is given patient drama through its prominent keyboard layers, or the goth early going of “Pain is a Wasteland,” which seems to brood until it finally can’t take it anymore and bashes its head (and yours) into the wall. Surprisingly methodical for the manic pace at which Déhà (né Olmo Lipani) works, it makes artistry of its arrangement as well as performance and is willfully overwhelming, but engaging in that.

Déhà on Facebook

Burning World Records website

 

Thunder Horse, Chosen One

Thunder Horse Chosen One

Big riffs, big grooves, big hooks, Thunder Horse‘s second long-player, Chosen One, sees the San Antonio, Texas, outfit inherit some aspects from the members’ past outfits, whether it’s the semi-industrial vocal style of Stephen Bishop on “Among the Dead” or the classically shredding solo work of Todd Connally. With Dave Crow on bass and Jason “Shakes” West on drums, Thunder Horse elbow their way into a nod quickly on Chosen One and hold their ground decisively, with Dehumanizer-esque tones and flourish of keys throughout that closes in lead position on the outro “Remembrance” in complement to the strumming, whistling “Texas” a short while earlier. Even when they shuffle, as on the second half of “Song for the Ferryman,” Thunder Horse do it heavy, and as they did with their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), they make it hard to argue, either with the atmosphere or the sheer lumber of their output. An easy record to dig for the converted.

Thunder Horse on Facebook

Ripple Music website

 

Rebreather, Pets / Orange Crush

Rebreather Pets Orange Crush

Heads up children of — or children of children of — the 1990s, as Youngstown, Ohio’s Rebreather effectively reinterpret and heavy up two of that decade’s catchiest hooks in Porno for Pyros‘ “Pets” and R.E.M.‘s “Orange Crush.” Taking songs that, if they ever left your head from rock radio, will certainly be right back in there now, and trying to put their own spin on them is ambitious, but Rebreather have no trouble slowing down the already kinda languid “Pets” or emphasizing the repetitive urgency of “Orange Crush,” and the tonal weight they bring to both honors the original versions as well as who Rebreather are as a band, while showcasing the band’s heretofore undervalued melodies, with call and response vocal lines in both cuts nodding to their sludge/noise rock roots while moving forward from there. They chose the songs well, if nothing else, and though it’s only about 10 minutes between the two cuts, as the first new Rebeather material since their 2018 self-titled EP (discussed here), I’ll take the two covers happily.

Rebreather on Facebook

Aqualamb Records website

 

Melmak, Down the Underground

Melmak Down the Underground

Spanish duo Melmak — guitarist/vocalist Jonan Etxebarria and drummer/vocalist Igor Etxebarria — offer an awaited follow-up to their 2016 long-player Prehistorical (review here) and demonstrate immediately that five years has not dulled their aggressive tendencies. Opener “Black Room” is a minute-long grindfest, and though “Scum” finds its way into a sludgy groove, it’s not far behind. “Poser” starts out as a piano ballad but turns to its own crushing roll, while “The Scene” rumbles out its lurch, “You Really Don’t Care” samples a crying baby over a sad piano line and “Ass Kisser” offers knee-to-the-face bruiser riffing topped with echoing gutturalism that carries the intensity into the seven-minute, more spacious “Jaundiced,” which gives itself over to extremity in its second half as well, and the closing noise wash of “The Crew.” What we learn from all this is it would seem Melmak find the heavy underground wanting in violent terms. They answer that call in bludgeoning fashion.

Melmak on Facebook

Melmak on Bandcamp

 

Astral Magic, Visions of Infinity

Astral Magic Visions of Infinity

Ostensibly a solo-project from Dark Sun bassist Santtu Laakso, Astral Magic‘s debut LP, Visions of Infinity, features contributions from guitarist Martin Weaver (Wicked Lady, Doctors of Space) and Scott “Dr. Space” Heller (Doctors of Space, Øresund Space Collective), as well as Samuli Sailo on ukulele, and has been mixed and mastered and released by Heller, so perhaps the plot thickens as regards just how much of band it is. Nonetheless, Astral Magic have all the cosmos to work with, so there’s plenty of room for everybody, as Visions of Infinity harnesses classic Hawkwindian space rock and is unafraid to add droning mysticism to the ever-outward procession on “Ancient Mysteries” or “Onboard the Spaceship,” to grow playful on “I Was Abducted” or bask in cosmic serenity on “Winds of Time” and “Wizards.” Off we go, into the greater reaches of “out there.” It’s a fun ride.

Astral Magic on Facebook

Space Rock Productions website

 

Crypt Monarch, The Necronaut

Crypt Monarch The Necronaut

Costa Rican trio Crypt Monarch offer their debut full-length in the form of the three-song/36-minute The Necronaut, the sound of which makes the claim on the part of the band — bassist/vocalist Christopher De Haan, guitarist Jose Rodriguez, drummer/vocalist J.C. Zuñiga — that it was made live in a cabin in the woods easy enough to believe. Though mixed and mastered, the 15-minute opener “Morning Star Through Skull” (15:41) and ensuing rollers “Rex Meridionalis” (10:12) and “Aglaphotis” (10:08) maintain a vigilant rawness, laced with noise even as De Haan and Zuñiga come together vocally on the latter, clean singing and gurgles alike. It is stoner metal taken to a logical and not entirely unfamiliar extreme, but the murk in which Crypt Monarch revel is dense and easy to get lost within. This, more than any single riff or lumbering groove, speaks to the success of the band’s intention in crafting the record. There is no clearly marked exit.

Crypt Monarch on Facebook

Electric Valley Records website

 

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Friday Full-Length: Akimbo, Jersey Shores

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

By the time Akimbo got around to releasing 2008’s Jersey Shores, their reputation preceded them among those who knew them at all. Shored up by a stretch of outings that included 2003’s Elephantine, 2004’s City of the Stars, 2006’s Forging Steel and Laying Stone and 2007’s Navigating the Bronze after their 2002 debut, Harshing Your Mellow, the Seattle-based noise trio had worked with Amalagate Records and tastemaking imprints like Seventh Rule Recordings and Alternative Tentacles before signing to Neurot Recordings for what would be a one-off and their sixth full-length. And though their work happened in quick succession to this point — Akimbo wanted little for intensity on any level throughout their time together; their ethic, ‘Live to Crush’ (see also: ‘eat beer, shit riffs’) would become the title of their final ode to fuckall in 2013 — their underpinning in hard punk was never so fleshed out as on this narrative six-track/46-minute offering.

The inspiration behind Jersey Shores was/is duly violent. In the beach town of Matawan, New Jersey, in early July 1916, there were a series of five shark attacks that, aside from inspiring Jaws and much modern pop culture fear of Great Whites, were the story of the summer along the Eastern Seaboard. As Akimbo put it in the memorable first line of the album, “Don’t forget the tides” — something you might say to somebody going out for a quick swim in the Atlantic, though subtly ominous as well. In that song, titled “Matawan,” it’s Charles Vansant, and he and subsequent victims Charles Bruder and Lester Stillwell, are duly memorialized in the tracks “Bruder Vansant” — fair enough to combine the Charleses — and “Lester Stillwell,” which round out side A.

In addition to the theme around which the material is based — side B pulls back from the direct storytelling with “Rogue,” the career-highlight-riff “Great White Bull” and the 12-minute closing title-track — what Jersey Shores does better than the vast majority of albums across various styles that try the same thing is to embody the ocean. Drummer Nat Damm‘s work is presented with due bombast in the Chris Evans production, and there’s that sense of the room that comes through in the best of West Coast noise when it’s organically delivered, and in the interplay between the basslines of Jon Weisnewski and the guitar of Aaron Walters, there’s a blend of bounce and drift that comes through in the meandering beginning of “Matawan” that serves as an atmospheric foundation for everything that follows. akimbo jersey shoresOf course there’s plenty of crush (they were living for it, remember) in that track and the sinister-sounding “Bruder Vansant” and the how-to-do-payoff-right 11-minute course of “Lester Stillwell,” not to mention the back half of the album, but the setting is the shore and the summertime, and Akimbo manage to keep hold of that throughout the entire procession of brash, weighted pummel that ensues.

“Lester Stillwell” might be the broadest reach Akimbo put forth during their time together, building from silence to low-end-led punk thrust to maddeningly tense chaos to gallop and ripper guitar soloing to its ultimate crashout and a mournful, minimalist stretch of bass and guitar in its last minute. On CD, the punch that follows with the onset of “Rogue” isn’t to be discounted, and it comes largely from Weisnewski‘s bass while the guitar freaks out in a way that’s somehow post-Soundgarden but not at all that thing at the same time. I honestly don’t even know why I’m making that comparison but it’s strong Kim Thayil in my head so I’m rolling with it. Either way, “Rogue” is suitably bruising, but in its mounting volume, one still finds the central rhythmic crux of Jersey Shores as established in “Matawan,” and as it caps with distorted lumber, the shift into the initial crashes and ultimate fuzz assault of “Great White Bull” is emblematic of the purposefulness Akimbo have been working with all along.

It is not a riff easily forgotten. “Great White Bull” thrashes in the water, offering grim crescendo for the record as a whole across just four minutes of maximum-go shove, ending with the line “Mercy has no home among the waves,” which is and feels very much like the conclusion of the narrative, even if the title-track is still to follow. Instrumental and built up like so much of Jersey Shores before it from a relatively subdued start — a comedown well earned after “Great White Bull” — “Jersey Shores” offers more choice guitar and bass work in its early going and quiet further in somewhat meandering, improv-feeling art-rock fashion before wiping the slate at 4:59 with a full-bodied kick of a lumbering riff, giving methodical answer to the album’s most chaotic moments en route to a finish of residual bass, and, at last, waves. The band will drift back before the 12 minutes are up, some quiet guitar for an epilogue, but the sense of being returned to a kind of natural order is palpable.

The level of achievement across Jersey Shores was and remains something distinct and aside from the majority of Akimbo‘s work. They had progressed in sound for sure leading up to it, but Jersey Shores was beyond the band’s stated ethic, and though they toured hard for it as they always did, it was somewhat telling that Live to Crush, when it came out in 2013 on Alternative Tentacles, did so as a posthumous release. That last statement from Akimbo stripped away the atmospheric focus of Jersey Shores, got back to the punk, as it were, whereas some of the melodic tendencies made their way into Weisnewski and Damm‘s new project, Sandrider, whose self-titled debut (review here), had shown up in 2011.

That first Sandrider, as well as 2013’s Godhead (review here) and 2018’s Armada (review here), was produced by Matt Bayles, who also helmed Live to CrushAkimbo‘s final show was in Aug. 2012, in Seattle, with Tad Doyle‘s Brothers of the Sonic Cloth supporting. That would’ve been a monstrous gig to see.

If you don’t know Jersey Shores, it might not be the most representative of Akimbo‘s LPs to dive into — City of the Stars or even Navigating the Bronze might be better places to start with the band — but this record was something special and it remains so 13 years after the fact.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Oh hi.

Well, The Pecan is back to school as of yesterday after fracturing his tibia, what, three weeks ago? Four? I don’t know. Reality shifts so much every day. It’s been three and a half years of being blindsided every morning, trying to ride that wave to the best of my ability, and finding myself barely up to the task on my best days. Last night I slept pretty hard. So did he, from what I saw on the monitor in his room. Kid’s a good sleeper, but he has to basically collapse from fatigue before he stops moving at all.

Stressful week for The Patient Mrs., though she did turn in an article long in the making yesterday and she seemed to feel good about that. Posi-vibes in the house are welcome. Things have been tense really since before the Pecan’s leg — I seem to recall something about a fractured skull? — but the pouring-not-raining aspect of double-you-tee-effs gets to be draining after a while. I’ve been working on raising my voice less at the child. Mixed results. Sometimes he needs his full name said in a more commanding tone in order to snap his attention from the thing he’s trying to destroy, whatever it might be. Just surprising him with that snap is enough sometimes if you can follow quickly enough with a redirect.

He’s also a master of the redirect. He’ll ask you what something is 50 times — he doesn’t do the standard ‘wh’ questions, but will say, “That’s a…” and leave you to fill in the blank forever — in order to get out of going to take a rest or get a diaper or whatever it is he doesn’t want to do.

I love him desperately. Yesterday the intensity around here was significantly reduced by his spending a couple hours at pre-K. All the more since it was raining. He needed to go back no less than his going back was needed generally. And we got his school pictures, which are so amazing I can’t. Even. Just can’t. I screamed when I saw them and I’m still screaming, they’re so wonderful.

Tomorrow night, Sun Voyager are playing Rushing Duck Brewery in NY. Same place I saw them in September. If the weather holds, I’m going to go. They’ve got one of the cats from Ghost Funk Orchestra sitting in on second guitar and their new record is a banger, so yeah, I’m on board. I’ll take pictures and write a review. Just like old times. I think The Patient Mrs. might come as well. It’s not too far a trip. Some nice enjoyment-of-company beyond the evening-standard Star Trek viewing, though there’s precious little I’d trade that for, generally speaking.

Next week, a Robots of the Ancient World video premiere, a Witchcryer track, Delving review (I hope), plus videos for Rosy Finch, Cavern Deep and Or Anthony. Very multimedia around here these days. Ebbs and flows.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Gonna be hot in the Northeast and it’s already humid as crap out, so don’t forget to hydrate. Watch your head. All that stuff.

And before I go, special thanks to everybody who has picked up The Obelisk merch from the new round of printings by Made in Brooklyn. There’s another t-shirt on the way.

FRM.

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Friday Full-Length: Shrinebuilder, Shrinebuilder

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 21st, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Likewise inevitable and impossible. You take some of the most formidable players of their generation — Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Al Cisneros of Om and Sleep, Scott “Wino” Weinrich of The Obsessed (etc.) and Dale Crover of the Melvins — and put them in a band together. As groups go, that’s pretty super. It didn’t last.

Listening back to Shrinebuilder‘s 2009 self-titled debut (review here), released through Neurot Recordings with cover art by Josh Graham (who probably should’ve been in the band too), the novelty of the idea is still hard to overcome. Maybe if Shrinebuilder had become a real working band — that is, one that took priority over everyone else’s other projects; no minor ask in this case — and had put out two or three more records by now, it would be easier to divorce the five songs of the 39-minute offering from the people behind them, but I remember when this album came in the mail, and the premise remains exciting, bringing these artists together and seeing what comes out.

Driven mostly by the riffs of Kelly and WeinrichShrinebuilder nonetheless gave everyone their space. In album opener “Solar Benediction,” the two guitarists trade verses early, with Kelly‘s gruff delivery playing off Wino‘s wizened sneer, before an e-bow topped break, hypnotic in its layered stretch, builds back up to a crawling final crush, and it’s not until the subsequent “Pyramid of the Moon” that Cisneros arrives on mic. He does so in the fashion of a wandering mystic. The foundation on which the changes from one riff to another and one apparent songwriter to another could hardly be more solid than to have Dale Crover on drums. Find me someone more used to going wherever the hell the song is going to go who already happens to be friends with all of these others. And he holds “Pyramid of the Moon” together through volume ebbs and flows, Kelly‘s vocal subdued early as they move toward a kind of vocal-drone chanting midsection and, with a few cymbal hits, into Cisneros‘ first verse of the record and the second lyrical mention of Jericho in the span of two songs.

That itself is emblematic of what’s largely been lost in Shrinebuilder‘s Shrinebuilder and certainly was at the time. Its songs are loaded with nuance. The subtle layer of guitar effects bolstering the atmosphere behind the second verse of “Pyramid of the Moon” — could be more e-bow, could be something else — or the acoustic guitar layered into the back end of “Solar Benediction.” As much as that leadoff track and the entire LP that follows is typified by that first moment when Kelly arrives to declare, “We stand burning before you/Returning wisdom with blood,” even the interplay between bass and drums as that ambient buildup takes place moving into the second half of the song is worth the headphone listen.

And Shrinebuilder continues to offer depth all across its span, whether its the vocals harmonizing with Kelly in the first half of centerpiece “Blind for All to See” — is that Crover? — or the march in that final riff as theshrinebuilder shrinebuilder song seems to just kind of come apart into a psychedelic ether, moving into “The Architect,” which feels Wino-driven in its guitar progression early, that twisting style, only to give way to Kelly again — and maybe Crover too, or Cisneros, it’s hard to tell even now — in a thicker movement that caps the shortest song on the record and what might’ve been at least a partial working model for the band had they opted to go forward, lacking the turns of “Solar Benediction” or the nine-minute closer “Science of Anger” that immediately follows, but a basic structure from which they might’ve pushed ahead. So it goes.

Shred comes early in “Science of Anger” and hits over at least two layers of rhythm guitar before the first verse — if you want to guess who wrote that lead-style riff, I’d put even money on Kelly or Wino — but the energetic feel from that first solo is mirrored in the drums and carries over to a feeling of spaciousness as guitars to twist and intertwine between the next two verses. Vocals are again layered without ceremony to which they’d be well entitled, and as Kelly‘s guttural voice rises to consume seemingly everything in its path, consider the layered-in echo of the words “twisted formations” at 3:33 as further evidence of Shrinebuilder‘s orientation toward detail. They didn’t just throw these songs together with parts by one person or the other. They could’ve. But even in the progression of the album as a whole, they saved both Wino joining Kelly in that heavier part and a mic-return from Cisneros for last. They built an album.

The transition to Cisneros, prefaced by a turn toward more of an Om-style march, is somewhat awkward, or at least rhythmically counterintuitive as to when he actually starts singing at 5:28, but it all starts to make its own kind of sense as the track gradually builds toward its earthen-psychedelic finish, a suitable payoff but a relatively gentle touch for a record that’s been nothing if not liberal in throwing its weight around, tonally-speaking.

As noted, Shrinebuilder didn’t last. I was fortunate enough to interview Al Cisneros for the album (I don’t think I’m cool enough to get that interview these days, so I’m proud of that one), and to see the band in New York in Nov. 2009 (review here). I was drunk and uncomfortable at Le Poisson Rouge, out of my league in its New York-ness. I don’t remember much about the show, to be honest, other than they was awesome. That was one of a few tours Shrinebuilder did; they’d also hit the West Coast and Europe before everyone went their own way again. In 2011, they put a 13-minute version of “Science of Anger” out as a single (discussed here) through Coextinction Recordings — the idea of a digital-only label was also a novelty at the time — and they’d follow with Live in Europe 2010 (discussed here) that year as well, releasing on vinyl through My Proud Mountain.

I’m not sure if more Shrinebuilder would be worth trading the last decade of material from these players — Kelly‘s records with NeurosisCorrections House, and solo, as well as the Sleep reunion, Wino‘s ill-fated regroup with Saint Vitus before reviving Spirit Caravan and The Obsessed in succession, or even Crover‘s ongoing Melvins-being-Melvins — but since it didn’t happen the point is moot. Everyone is still alive, so never say never, but as it stands, this self-titled is a moment that’s passed and doesn’t look likely to come again. Fair enough. Particularly in terms of how well it’s stood up to the last 12 years, still delivering something new on a random revisit on a random week, one couldn’t ask for more than they gave.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

In New Jersey, where I live, the office of child welfare is called Child Protective Services. When I was a kid, it was called DYFS, the Division of Youth and Family Services, or some such. My mother used to say DYFS was gonna come and take me away if I didn’t behave. Fair enough.

CPS came to the house this past weekend because The Pecan broke his leg and it’s his second significant fracture in about two months’ time, following of course his cracking his skull falling on the basement floor in March. I think it’s largely because we’re white and living in suburban comfort in a nice, relatively clean house (I could stand to vacuum), that they didn’t allege significant abuse, but they definitely asked. “Hey, you ever spank your kid?” I said I swat his butt to get him to go up the stairs — not with a broken leg, obviously — but never in a disciplining manner so much as playful.

I guess a toddler — worse, this toddler — with a spiral-fractured tibia is what I get for calling out one of my parenting nightmares last Friday in noting that he’d pooped in the tub. This is life, people.

He was going down the twisty slide with The Patient Mrs. after tee-ball, juked when he should’ve jived, and snapped it. He and I had gone down the same slide in the same way just minutes before. A fluke thing. In our postgame analysis of the event, The Patient Mrs. and I examined both whether he needs more calcium in his diet — he doesn’t drink milk but his doctor has never remarked on significant lacks in his bloodwork — and whether we’re terrible parents. I’m pretty much convinced of my own awfulness, and The Pecan himself is unilaterally mommy-centered enough to articulate his confirmation of same, but neither this nor his fall a couple months back were really anyone’s fault. I blame myself for both, but that’s just parenting shit (or, in my case, shit parenting; I failed even before I started). It’s unfortunate timing.

Which is basically what we said to not-DYFS. They were supposed to send a follow-up later in the week and no one came. Fine.

He can walk with help at this point. A little more movement every day. No school this week, which has meant I get up early to work. He goes for follow-up imaging today and a second orthopedist appointment on Monday. At urgent care last Saturday right after it happened, they scared The Patient Mrs. with talk of surgery — some residual trauma factoring in from our hospital stay post-skull fracture there, I should think — but it doesn’t look like he’ll need any rods or anything as of now. He’s in a boot. Might need a cast. We’ll see on Monday. His entire being stinks. Hasn’t had a bath in more than a week. I’ve been wiping him down every day, but he’s “cheesy,” as we often joke. “Ya cheesy,” he says.

That’s been the week. That and maintain, and both have been a challenge. It has brought into light how fortunate we are to live minutes from my family — a support system we simply didn’t have when we were living in Massachusetts — for not the first time, but that is especially vivid after vaccination. We are lucky to be where we are, in this house. I have hard times. A lot. In my head. A lot. Every day I speak to myself in Bad Voice. I should like to actively work more on being thankful than being a miserable bastard like my own father. It is an aspiration. A challenge. I fail more often.

The kid’s up and has been for a while — we’ve been joking this week about “loafing” in bed — and it’s quarter-to-eight, so I’m gonna head upstairs and help him get down, get breakfast going. Thanks for reading and have a great and safe weekend. Watch your head, hydrate, all that stuff.

FRM.

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Quarterly Review: Steve Von Till, Cyttorak, Lambda, Dee Calhoun, Turtle Skull, Diuna, Tomorrow’s Rain, Mother Eel, Umbilichaos, Radar Men From the Moon

Posted in Reviews on October 5th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

THE-OBELISK-FALL-2020-QUARTERLY-REVIEW

Oh hi there. It’s Quarterly Review time again, and you know what that means. 50 records between now and Friday — and I may or may not extend it through next Monday as well; I think I have enough of a backlog at this point to do so. It’s really just a question of how destroyed I am by writing about 10 different records every day this week. If past is prologue, that’s fairly well destroyed. But I’ve yet to do a Quarterly Review and regret it when it’s over, and like the last one, this roundup of 50 albums is pretty well curated, so it might even be fun to go through. There’s a thought. In any case, as always, I hope you find something you enjoy, and thank you for reading if you do or as much as you do.

Quarterly Review #1-10:

Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough

steve von till no wilderness deep enough

Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till seems to be bringing some of the experimentalism that drives his Harvestman project into the context of his solo work with No Wilderness Deep Enough, his fifth LP and first since 2015’s A Life unto Itself (review here). Drones and melodic synth backs the deceptively-titled “The Old Straight Track,” and where Von Till began his solo career 20 years ago with traditional folk guitar, if slower, on these six tracks, he uses that meditative approach as the foundation for an outward-reaching 37-minute run, incorporating ethereal strings among the swirls of “Shadows on the Run” and finishing with the foreboding hum of “Wild Iron.” Opener “Dreams of Trees” establishes the palette’s breadth with synthesized beats alongside piano and maybe-cello, but it’s Von Till‘s voice itself that ties the material together and provides the crucial human presence and intimacy that most distinguishes the offerings under his own name. Accompanied by Von Till‘s first published book of poetry, No Wilderness Deep Enough is a portrait of the unrelenting creative growth of its maker.

Steve Von Till on Thee Facebooks

Neurot Recordings on Bandcamp

 

Cyttorak, Simultaneous Invocation of Apocalyptic Harbingers

Cyttorak Simultaneous Invocation of Apocalyptic Harbingers

Take a breath before you hit play only to have it punched right out from your solar plexus by the brutalist deathsludge Cyttorak cleverly call “slowerviolence.” Dominated by low end and growls, screams, and shouts, the lumbering onslaught is the second standalone EP for the three-piece who hail from scenic Pawtucket, Rhode Island (former home of the PawSox), and throughout its six-track run, the unit conjure an unyieldingly punishing tonal morass set to aggressive purpose. That they take their name from the Marvel Universe character who controls X-Men villain Juggernaut should not be taken as coincidence, since their sound indeed seems intended to put its head down and smash through walls and/or anything else that might be in its path in pursuit of its quarry. With Conan-esque lyrical minimalism, the songs nonetheless give clues to their origins — “Royal Shokan Dismemberment” refers to Goro from Mortal Kombat, and finale “Domination Lord of Coldharbour” to Skyrim (which I still regret not playing) — but if you consider comics or video games to be lighter fare, first off, you’re working with an outdated mentality, and second, Cyttorak would like a bit of your time to smother you with volume and ferocity. They have a new split out as well, both on tape.

Cyttorak on Thee Facebooks

Tor Johnson Records website

 

Lambda, Heliopolis

lambda heliopolis

Also signified by the Greek letter from which they take their moniker, Czech four-piece Lambda represent a new age of progressive heavy post-rock. Influences from Russian Circles aren’t necessarily surprising to find coursing through the instrumental debut full-length, Heliopolis, but there are shades of Elder as well behind the more driving riffs and underlying swing of “Space Express,” which also featured on the band’s 2015 EP of the same name. The seven-minute “El Sonido Nuevo” did likewise, but older material or newer, the album’s nine-song procession moves toward its culminating title-track through the grace of “Odysea” and the intertwining psychedelic guitars of “Milkyway Phaseshifter” with an overarching atmosphere of the journey to the city of the sun being undertaken. And when they get there, at the closer, there’s an initial sense of peace that gives way to some of the most directly heavy push Heliopolis has to offer. Payoff, then. So be it. Purposeful and somewhat cerebral in its execution, the DIY debut brings depth and space together to immersive effect.

Lambda on Thee Facebooks

Lambda on Bandcamp

 

Dee Calhoun, Godless

dee calhoun godless

Following his 2016 debut, Rotgut (review here) and 2018’s Go to the Devil (review here), Godless is the third full-length from former Iron Man and current Spiral Grave frontman Dee Calhoun, and its considerable 63-minute runtime finds him working in multiple directions while keeping his underlying roots in acoustic-based heavy metal. Certainly “To My Boy” — and Rob Calhoun has appeared on his father’s releases before as well — has its basis in familial expression, but its pairing with “Spite Fuck” is somewhat curious. Meanwhile, “Hornswoggled” cleverly samples George W. Bush with a laugh track, and “Here Under Protest,” “The Greater Evil,” “Ebenezer” and “No Justice” seem to take a worldly view as well. Meanwhile again, “Godless,” “The Day Salvation Went Away” and “Prudes, Puritanicals and Puddles of Piss” make their perspective nothing if not plain for the listener, and the album ends with the two-minute kazoo-laced gag track “Here Comes the Bride: A Tale From Backwater.” So perhaps scattershot, but Godless is nonetheless Calhoun‘s most effective outing yet in terms of arrangements and craft, and shows him digging further into the singer-songwriter form than he has up to now, sounding more comfortable and confident in the process.

Dee Calhoun on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website

 

Turtle Skull, Monoliths

Turtle Skull Monoliths

Melodic vocal lines weave together and float over alternately weighted and likewise ethereal guitars on Turtle Skull‘s second album, Monoliths. The percussion-inclusive (tambourine, congas, rain stick, etc.) Sydney-based heavy psychedelic outfit create an immersive wash that makes the eight-song/55-minute long-player consuming for the duration, and while there are moments of clarity to be found throughout — the steady snare taps of “Why Do You Ask?” for example — but the vast bulk of the LP is given to the overarching flow, which finds progressive/space-rock footing in the 11-plus minutes of finale “The Clock Strikes Forever” and is irresistibly consuming on the drifting wash of “Rabbit” or the lysergic grunge blowout of “Who Cares What You Think?,” which gives way to the choral drone of “Halcyon” gorgeously en route through the record’s back half. It’s not the highest profile heavy psych release of 2020, but neither is it to be overlooked for the languid stretch of “Leaves” at the outset or the fuzz-drenched roll in the penultimate “Apple of Your Eye.”

Turtle Skull on Thee Facebooks

Art as Catharsis on Bandcamp

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

Diuna, Golem

diuna golem

In some ways, the dichotomy of Diuna‘s 2019 sophomore full-length, Golem, is set by its first two tracks, the 24-second intro “Menu” and the seven-minute “Jarmark Cudów” that follows, each longer song throughout is prefaced by an introduction or interlude, varying in degrees of experimentation. That, however, doesn’t cover the outsider vibes the Polish trio bring to bear in those longer songs themselves, be it “Jarmark Cudów” devolving into a post-Life of Agony noise rock roll, or the thrust in “Frank Herbert” cut into starts and stops and shouting madness. Heavy rock, noise, sludge, post-this-or-that, it doesn’t matter by the end of the 12-track/44-minute release, because Diuna establish such firm control over the proceedings and make so clear the challenge to the listener to keep up that it’s only fun to try. It might take a couple listens to sink in, but the more attention one gives Golem, the more one is going to be rewarded in the end, and I don’t just mean in the off-kilter fuckery of closer “Pan Jezus Idzie Do Wojska.”

Diuna on Thee Facebooks

Diuna on Bandcamp

 

Tomorrow’s Rain, Hollow

tomorrows rain hollow

“Ambitious” doesn’t begin to cover it. With eight songs (plus a bonus track) and 11 listed guest musicians, the debut full-length, Hollow, from Tel Aviv-based death-doomers Tomorrow’s Rain seems to be setting its own standard in that regard. And quite a list it is, with the likes of Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride, Greg Mackintosh of Paradise Lost, Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell, Mikko Kotamaki of Swallow the Sun, and so on, it is a who’s-who of melodic/gothic death-doom and the album lives up to the occasion in terms of the instrumental drama it presents. Some appear on one track, some on multiple tracks — Ribeiro and Kotamaki both feature on “Misery Rain” — and despite the constant shifts in personnel with only one of the eight tracks completely without an outside contributor, the core six-piece of Tomorrow’s Rain are still able to make an impression of their own that is bolstered and not necessarily overwhelmed by the extravagant company being kept throughout.

Tomorrow’s Rain on Thee Facebooks

AOP Records website

 

Mother Eel, Svalbard

mother eel svalbard

Mother Eel‘s take on sludge isn’t so much crushing as it is caustic. They’re plenty heavy, but their punishment isn’t just meted out through tonal weight being brought down on your head. It’s the noise. It’s the blown-out screams. It’s the harshness of the atmosphere in which the entirety of their debut album, Svalbard, resides. Five tracks, 33 minutes, zero forgiveness. One might be tempted to think of songs like “Erection of Pain” as nihilistic fuckall, but that seems incorrect. Nah, they mean it. Fuckall, yeah. But fuckall as ethos. Fuckall manifest. So it goes through “Alpha Woman” and “Listen to the Elderly for They Have Much to Teach,” which ends in a Primitive Man-ish static assault, and the lumbering finish “Not My Shade,” which assures that what began on “Sucking to Gain” half an hour earlier ends on the same anti-note: a disaffected malevolence writ into sheer sonic unkindness. There is little letup, even in the quiet introductions or transitions, so if you’re looking for mercy, don’t bother.

Mother Eel on Thee Facebooks

Mother Eel on Redbubble

 

Umbilichaos, Filled by Empty Spaces

Umbilichaos Filled by Empty Spaces

The four-song/39-minute atmospheric sludge long-player Filled by Empty Spaces is listed by Brazilian solo outfit Umbilichaos as being the third part of, “the Tetralogy of Loneliness.” If that’s the emotion being expressed in the noise-metal post-Godflesh chug-and-shout of “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 02,” then it is loneliness viscerally presented by founding principal and multi-instrumentalist Anna C. Chaos. The feel throughout the early going of the release is plodding and agonized in kind, but in “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 01” and “Filled by Empty Spaces Pt. 03” there is some element of grim, crusted-over psychedelia happening alongside the outright dirge-ism, though the latter ultimately wins out in the four-minute instrumental capper “Disintegration.” One way or the other, Chaos makes her point through raw tonality and overarching intensity of purpose, the compositions coming across simultaneously unhinged and dangerously under control. There are many kinds of heavy. Filled by Empty Spaces is a whole assortment of them.

Umbilichaos on Thee Facebooks

Sinewave website

 

Radar Men From the Moon, The Bestial Light

radar men from the moon the bestial light

Fueled by avant grunge/noise impulsion, Radar Men From the Moon‘s latest foray to Planet Whothefuckknows arrives in the eight-song/41-minute The Bestial Light, a record alternately engrossing and off-putting, that does active harm when the sounds-like-it’s-skipping intro to “Piss Christ” comes on and then subsequently mellows out with psych-sax like they didn’t just decide to call the song “Sacred Cunt of the Universe” or something. Riffs, electronics, the kind of weirdness that’s too self-aware not to be progressive, Radar Men From the Moon take the foundation of experimentation set by Astrosoniq and mutate it via Swans into something unrecognizable by genre and unwilling to compromise its own direction. And no, by the time “Levelling” comes on to round out, there is no peace to be found, though perhaps a twisted kind of joy at the sheer postmodernism. They should score ballets with this stuff. No one would go, but three centuries from now, they’d be worshiped as gods. Chance of that anyway, I suppose.

Radar Men From the Moon on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Club Records on Bandcamp

 

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Friday Full-Length: Red Sparowes, At the Soundless Dawn

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 5th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

It’s ironic that an album so clearly based around the end of existence as we know it through a sixth great extinction should be so comforting. In 2005, when Red Sparowes issued At the Soundless Dawn, the notion on which the 62-minute seven-tracker was based was a relatively unknown idea, and since then not only has the science behind it become more widely accepted but countless other bands have taken their cues from Red Sparowes and from the world around them generally and openly discussed issues of climate change, nature and humanity’s relation to it. It doesn’t seem fair to attribute that to the Los Angeles-based outfit alone — everyone lives on the planet, after all, and the subject is relevant politically as well as in terms of the sheer ecosystem destruction — but they helped pave the way certainly. Perhaps doubly impressive that’s the case since At the Soundless Dawn is instrumental.

The subject matter was just one of the ways in which Red Sparowes‘ debut, out initially on CD through Neurot Recordings and vinyl through Robotic Empire, was groundbreaking. Post-metal was just beginning to take shape at the time, with stylistic godfathers Neurosis having released The Eye of Every Storm and Isis issuing Panopticon the year before. Bands like Minsk and Mouth of the Architect also making striking debuts and Russian Circles were beginning to find their way in terms of aesthetic. It was an exciting time for a new progressive vision of heavy, and At the Soundless Dawn offered not only that, but a distinct literary sensibility owing in part to the structure of its titles. To wit, the tracklisting:

1. Alone and Unaware, the Landscape was Transformed in Front of Our Eyes
2. Buildings Began to Stretch Wide Across the Sky, And the Air Filled With A Reddish Glow
3. The Soundless Dawn Came Alive as Cities Began to Mark the Horizon
4. Mechanical Sounds Cascaded Through the City Walls and Everyone Reveled in Their Ignorance
5. A Brief Moment of Clarity Broke Through the Deafening Hum, But it Was Too Late
6. Our Happiest Days Slowly Began to Turn into Dust
7. The Sixth Extinction Crept Up Slowly, Like Sunlight Through the Shutters, as We Looked Back in Regret

Reading those now it’s hard not to think of looking at wildfires in the distance, raging so hard that the smoke they’re putting out is adding to the pollution that was their cause in the first place.

red sparowes at the soundless dawn

Each track, thusly descriptive, becomes an evocative chapter in this overarching narrative, and with ties to both Isis through guitarist/organist Bryant Clifford Meyer and guitarist/bassist Jeff Caxide and Neurosis through guitarist/pianist Josh Graham — who handled visuals for Neurosis live for years as well as artwork and did the same for Red Sparowes; his art has continued to work in themes of nature and climate — as well as Marriages through bassist/pedal steel guitarist Greg BurnsRed Sparowes immediately had the pedigree to validate their ambition. That is to say, 15 years ago, a band making their debut on Neurot with members associated with IsisNeurosis and Marriages would have an easy time getting their foot in the door of listeners. I have to think that the same would apply if At the Soundless Dawn were coming out today. Maybe more so.

On top of that, however, Red Sparowes would earn every ounce of acclaim they’d reap. The depths and sprawl of At the Soundless Dawn remain likewise immersive and staggering, and in moments of shining pedal steel giving way to ambient synthesized and manipulated voice drones like “Mechanical Sounds Cascaded…” or in the relatively driving recurring riffs of “Buildings Began to Stretch Wide…” — particularly Neurosis-derived — and the circa-midpoint wash of 19-minute closer “The Sixth Extinction Crept Up Slowly…,” and in the quiet reaches that follow and seem to manifest extinction itself, At the Soundless Dawn succeeds in telling its story without saying a single word. And though obviously the finale is a focal point as it consumes nearly a third of the album’s total runtime, shorter pieces like “A Brief Moment of Clarity…” — the pedal steel of which reminds me of repurposed Yawning Man guitar tone — and “The Soundless Dawn Came Alive…” and the penultimate echoing “Our Happiest Days…” play an essential role in casting a vision of heavy that is no less meditative than it is weighted. These are ideas one might now take for granted in no small part because of the work Red Sparowes do in these songs.

The band would have reunited in April — they may yet do so in 2021 — at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands. Timely because of the 15th anniversary of this album, no doubt their taking the stage would and will be welcome anytime it happens. The lineup would change over time as CaxideGraham and original drummer Dana Berkowitz left and the likes of Emma Ruth Rundle (then also of Marriages), Dave Clifford (Pleasure Forever) and Brendan Tobin (Made Out of Babies) — among others — would make their way into and out of the group. The second album, 2006’s Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, took on a more directly sociopolitcal theme while furthering the debut’s sonic purposes, and 2008’s Toshi Kasai-produced Aphorisms EP and 2010’s The Fear is Excruciating, but Therein Lies the Answer long-player (on Sargent House) — which I apparently bought at Roadburn 2010 — round out the main catalog, though splits along the way with Gregor Samsa, Grails, and Made Out of Babies & Battle of Mice provided quicker immersion.

Maybe Red Sparowes ran their natural course in the same way that Isis did, though it certainly happened in less time for Bryant Clifford Meyer in the band considered widely his own. I’ll admit it had been a while since I last listened in earnest to At the Soundless Dawn, and as I remember seeing them during this era (as much as I remember anything from that era), I was looking forward to doing so again now. The world is what it is. Sad, mostly. At the Soundless Dawn is warm and prescient in kind, and offers escapism even as it hinges on direct confrontation with complexities and the delirium tremens of our times.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

What would it take for a global pandemic to fall out of the lead spot on the news? I don’t know who asked, but I’m sorry they did. The killing of George Floyd is a tragedy, and while I’m skeptical it will result in any grand structural change, particularly with white apartheid embedded in the current structure of the American republic owing to gerrymandering and voter suppression, seeing people out across the country calling for change has been a reminder that the majority of citizens across demographics actually support progressive causes, and it is the minority who lead and do so to serve their own interests.

Consider the US president mobilizing prison guards to disperse a peaceful protest to take a photo holding a Bible in front of a church that would soon denounce him. Constitutional? No, not really. More like white supremacist fascism couched as “strong leadership.” In fact there is nothing strong about it.

I generally don’t believe in the power of nonviolent protest to enact meaningful change, but if you haven’t given money to Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Bail Fund, or any other progressive cause speaking out this week, now’s a good time.

I understand now how Germans who disagreed with the Nazis got stuck. I have a home. I have a young child. My wife has a job. We have this house. And who knows if we could get across a border anyway? Where would we go? Tilburg? Canada? Ireland? The Patient Mrs. and I have talked numerous times about “when it’s time to leave” and honestly, the mobilization of legally-specious secret police forces — and subsequent lying to the press about it — seems to be a good time. Hell, locking kids in cages seemed to be a good time, even if our white privilege protected us from actually experiencing that horror first-hand. But where would we go? Could we just leave? What would we take? What about my family? What about her family?

I don’t hold any great love of this country. I speak English, which is convenient here, but it’s convenient in a bunch of places. I think patriotism is downright silly, but I love my family. I love her family. What about them? What about the few real-life friends that I have? Some have already left. Should I follow? Can I?

That’s how it happens. It’s easy now to look back on World War II-era Europe and wonder why everyone being persecuted or who were scared of speaking out didn’t just leave. Many did. And honestly, my wife is a published author on record as supporting radical left wing and feminist ideals, and because of that I fear for her. But we have a life. Can we go? Is it time? Am I being paranoid? Would they ever “come for us” in any meaningful sense? And even if they didn’t, doesn’t that just make me all the more complicit if I don’t actively resist? Isn’t the all-or-nothing nature of fascism, not to mention the life and death stakes, emblematic of the need to take a strong stand against it?

And then it’s too late.

That’s how it happens.

Life unfolds in a series of minutes spent waiting for other things.

I would say practice radical love, but I’m not sure that’s the answer. If you’re out there protesting, or vigil-ing, or whatever, watch your back, and be fucking careful. There’s still a pandemic on, even if the numbers are down right now.

FRM.

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Steve Von Till to Release Poetry Book & No Wilderness Deep Enough LP Aug. 7; New Single Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 7th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

steve von till (Photo by Bobby Cochran)

The world needs a new Steve Von Till album right now. — this is an actual thought, from my actual brain (such as it is), that I had not one week ago. True, by “the world,” I mean me, but still. I need a new Steve Von Till album right now.

Aug. 7 is the release date for Steve Von Till‘s new LP, No Wilderness Deep Enough, and though I recognize literal millions of people are recently unemployed I’ll still go ahead and note that preorders are open now for both the album itself, and for Von Till‘s first book of poetry, titled similarly to one of his many projects, Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics. You’ll note in the PR wire info below that the collected lyrics are all from the title-tracks of his solo records, and that No Wilderness Deep Enough brings that tally to five, following behind 2015’s A Life unto Itself (review here) and coming some 20 years after his first, 2000’s As the Crow Flies.

Listening to the first single from No Wilderness Deep Enough, the opener “Dreams of Trees,” I’m particularly intrigued to read below that the album started out instrumental and it was none other than Randall Dunn who encouraged Von Till to add vocals. The depth of the arrangement on “Dreams of Trees,” from the far-back howls of what I probably incorrectly presume are effects to the cello up front, there’s a spaciousness that’s been in Von Till‘s work since his more minimalist early efforts, but as the song unfolds, the piano and electronics come to bear and fill out that space in fascinating ways. I can only wonder and anticipate how that might play out and further develop over the course of the album as a whole.

And it’s been a while since I’ve had something good to read.

The PR wire has all the details:

STEVE VON TILL Announces New Album No Wilderness Deep Enough

Alongside First Book – Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics

Both Available August 7, 2020 via Neurot Recordings

Reveals New Single “Dreams of Trees”

Uncertainty abounds, and Steve Von Till’s No Wilderness Deep Enough provides a voice of existential wisdom and experience to offer comfort and perspective in an era of uncharted territory. The album’s six pieces of music shape a hallucinatory landscape of sound that plumbs the depths of the natural world’s mysteries and uncertainties—questions that have vexed humanity since the dawn of time asked anew amidst a backdrop that’s as haunting as it is holistic. It’s music to lose yourself in. Swirling and iridescent blends of ambient, neo-classical and gothic Americana unfold on album opener, “Dreams of Trees” which was released today.

No Wilderness Deep Enough arrives alongside Von Till’s first published work of original poetry, Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics. The book is a collection of new poetry and lyrics from Von Till’s solo career over the past 20 years. It’s a work of rich text that showcases his deeply felt ruminations on the myriad beginnings and endings of life itself, offering another medium of which to experience his singular artistic perspective. See below for more info and artwork.

Von Till’s charted an extraordinary musical path over the last several decades, from his main duties as singer and guitarist of the boundary-breaking Neurosis, to the psychedelic music of his Harvestman project and the unique folk songs he’s released under his own name. But No Wilderness Deep Enough is truly like nothing you’ve ever heard from him before—an album that’s devastatingly beautiful and overwhelming in its scope, reminiscent of the tragic ecstasy of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ recent work as well as the borderless ambient music pioneered by Brian Eno, late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s glacial compositions, and the electronic mutations of Coil.

With a foundation of simple melancholy piano chord progressions that came to fruition during jetlagged nights in his wife’s childhood home in Germany, No Wilderness Deep Enough was further embellished with mellotron and electronic treatments in Von Till’s home studio in North Idaho. Viewing the emerging result as an ambient instrumental album, he consulted friend and engineer Randall Dunn (Marissa Nadler, Earth) about adding live cello and french horn and piano in a proper studio. After enlisting Brent Arnold on cello and Aaron Korn on french horn, he challenged Von Till to sing over the music and make it his next solo album — which is exactly what happened, with final work being completed at Tucker Martine’s (the Decemberists, Neko Case) Flora Recording and Playback in Portland.

Lyrically, No Wilderness Deep Enough touches on themes essential to living in the world around us, as well as co-existing with ourselves and others. “It’s about personal longings and loss, and the loves and insecurities we all feel combined with meditations on humanity as a whole,” Von Till explains while discussing his main artistic aims behind the album, as well as his poetic expressions captured in Harvestman. “I’m exploring the great disconnect: from the natural world, from each other, and ultimately from ourselves—trying to find meaning and depth in re-establishing those connections, to find a resonance in purpose and acknowledging the past while looking towards the future and still being in the moment.”

With No Wilderness Deep Enough and Harvestman, Von Till has achieved a sense of mass resonance through his restless artistic exploration—providing art that journeys into the heart of fear and uncertainty in a world where we’ve often known little else. He swan-dives into the darkness of modern life, with the resulting emergence a sonic document of rural psychedelia that transcends the physical world—towards a greater spiritual acceptance that connects naturalism, spiritualism, and the corporeal form.

No Wilderness Deep Enough and Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics arrives August 7, 2020 via Neurot Recordings. Further information and pre-order details are available here.

No Wilderness Deep Enough Track Listing:

1 – Dreams of Trees
2 – The Old Straight Track
3 – Indifferent Eyes
4 – Trail the Silent Hours
5 – Shadows on the Run
6 – Wild Iron

Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics
by Steve Von Till

First printing: Limited hardback edition
Beautifully illustrated with linocuts by Mazatl
Published by Astrophil Press at the University of South Dakota

Table of Contents:
23 Untitled Poems
As The Crow Flies
If I Should Fall to the Field
A Grave is a Grim Horse
A Life Unto Itself
No Wilderness Deep Enough

https://www.facebook.com/SteveVonTill
https://www.instagram.com/stevevontill/
https://www.vontill.org/
http://www.neurosis.com
http://www.neurotrecordings.com
http://www.facebook.com/neurotrecordings
https://neurotrecordings.bandcamp.com
neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/artists/harvestman

Steve Von Till, “Dreams of Trees”

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Ufomammut Announce Indefinite Hiatus

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 13th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Ufomammut have gone on hiatus, and the question I keep coming back to is whether or not the band had run their course. For those unaware — who likely aren’t reading this anyway because if you don’t know the band you’re probably not interested in their breaking up, but stay with me — the Italian three-piece of bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Urlo, guitarist/keyboardist Poia and drummer Vita formed in 1999 and would go on to serve as progenitors of a movement one can now refer to as cosmic doom largely because of the work they did in shaping it. Their blend of psychedelia and crushing rhythm and tone remains largely unmatched in the known universe, and if you think their innovation ends with “they play doom with keyboards,” I wholeheartedly invite you to partake of 2010’s Eve (review here, also discussed here) and eat your words. And just in case you click either of those links, I’ll prepare you: there are few records I’ve lauded as voraciously on this site, and I stand by every word of that hyperbole.

The band say in their statement that they’re not done, despite Vita leaving, but that they’re stepping back after this 20-year run to reassess and regroup, figuratively and literally. Best wishes to them for that, of course, but going back to the initial question, I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that they had nothing more to say. I’ll say outright that nothing they’ve done since has hit me in the same impact as Eve — whether it was 2017’s 8 (review here), 2015’s Ecate (review here) or 2012’s two-parter, Oro: Opus Primum (review here) and Oro: Opus Alter (review here) — but honestly, few records have by anyone else either. But Ufomammut have never stopped moving forward creatively, and even the manner in which they marked their 20th anniversary, with the XX EP (review here) and box set, found them bringing new ideas to their past work, reinventing it in an even more atmospheric context.

And that’s what makes me say no to the above question and, in particular, what makes me interested in where Ufomammut might go when this hiatus ends, which, again, they say it will, despite its “indefinite” nature. The fact that they’ve never done anything but build on their past. I’m not blind to the fact that this will be the first lineup change involving what was the core trio of the band for two decades, and nor will I minimize Vita‘s contributions to the personality of the group — he can still be heard in Sonic Wolves and Rogue State — but what does a post-hiatus Ufomammut sound like? Where does that scope go? My guess is forward.

The band’s statement follows:

UFOMAMMUT photo by Francesca De Franceschi Manzoni

After twenty years, Ufomammut is pausing for a while, the time has come to turn off amplifiers and let the tubes cool down, to let the silence allow us to rebuild, and then start again.

This decision comes to the end of an intense and difficult period of problems and misunderstandings that none of us has been able to solve and overcome, after which Vita decided to leave the band.

We thank him for sharing with us twenty incredible years of creation, recordings, tours and concerts, of uncompromising music, sacrifices and great satisfactions.

Started in February 1999, it’s been a journey in which we have been lucky enough to create our music and to tour all around the world to play it, as well as the honor of sharing the stage with our favorite bands.

It’s been an opportunity that made us understand that this band is not only the three guys on stage, but also YOU.

YOU made us live through emotions which we would have not experienced otherwise.

YOU, that have shared with us the sound and the power of this religion without boundaries and ideology, that is music.

YOU, that all are, simply, Ufomammut.

Thank You.

And see you soon.

www.ufomammut.com
https://ufomammut.8merch.com/
www.facebook.com/ufomammutband
www.instagram.com/ufomammut
http://www.supernaturalcat.com

Ufomammut, 8 (2017)

Ufomammut, Eve (2010)

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Song of the Decade: YOB, “Marrow”

Posted in Features on December 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

yob (Photo by James Rexroad)

To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel the need to plead much of a case here. The 18-minute closer from Oregon trio YOB‘s 2014 opus, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), is its own best argument for being the best song that came out in the 2010s. And though it was obviously a while back, I also named it the song of the year when it came out. So who wants to be redundant? Here’s some of what I said about it at the time:

“Marrow” is led into by “Unmask the Spectre,” a 15-minute exploration that hits its apex late. There is, however, about 40-seconds of ambient guitar and spacious effects swirling after the chaos has subsided, and the fadeout of that gives flowing movement into the silence from which the opening guitar line of “Marrow” emerges. It’s less than a minute before bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster join in, which leaves guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt to set the initial atmosphere for what will become YOB‘s boldest and most melodic construction to date. Already by then, Clearing the Path to Ascend has taken listeners up, down and through an emotional torrent, songs like the raging “Nothing to Win” and the perpetually-searching “In Our Blood” establishing the dynamic course beyond YOB‘s beginnings — which, make no mistake, are essential to the makeup of what we think of today as cosmic doom — and further into something wholly their own; a sound as distinct and identifiable as Sleep‘s is to Sleep, as Neurosis‘ is to Neurosis. — read more here.

It’s been five years, and YOB have put out 2018’s Our Raw Heart (review here) in the meantime, moving from Neurot Recordings to Relapse Records in the process. So does the above still apply? Yes, and maybe even more than it did then.

The subsequent half-decade since it came out has done nothing to dull the impact of “Marrow,” from its wistful opening and closing guitar figure to the grand sweep of its melodic chorus, to the sheer grace of its crescendo, which arrives not as some overstated wash of noise or volume for volume’s sake, but a moment driven by emotion even more than tone. And the lyrics there, purposeful in their simplicity, say it gorgeous and plain like the truest of American art forms:

“Restless souls
Flickering light
Painted in gold
Tearing at the seams
Needing to feel
One true moment
Needing to feel
Something true”

That’s you, at a show. You’re one of the restless souls in the gold flickering light needing to feel one true moment. When Mike Scheidt sings those lines and the ones before them, he’s talking about the communication between artist and audience, the experience of performance that is unique to stage arts — theatre and music. Painters (usually) don’t paint on stage. Writers (usually) don’t write on stage. But that “one true moment.” That “something true” is the genuine expression that performance represents to Scheidt, and presumably YOB as a whole.

But the key word there is “needing,” and what the lyrics to “Marrow” leave largely unsaid is the need on the part of the band itself. It is represented as a kind of searching felt beneath the surface, and after a stream of consciousness first verse, the song unfolds into the self-aware pre-chorus thusly:

“All these words
Are dust within my mind
In these times
That burn within our sight
Yearning to know
Deep into the marrow”

Of course, YOB are not the first band to write about the experience of creative life, but if one takes the song at its own level, the difference is the level on which they’re engaging it. It’s not skin, muscle or bone. It’s marrow. It is the deepest level. The essential charge in the electron in the nucleus of an atom. YOB earned the title of the following LP by showing their raw heart first on “Marrow,” and in its performance, from Scheidt, Aaron Rieseberg and Travis Foster, it is something unmatched in their catalog, which spans nearly 20 years of output. But while “Marrow” remains superlative, it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Consider the context of the grand YOB closers that have been a running theme throughout their career. I recounted the list at the time as well, but to reiterate, I’m thinking of the title-tracks of 2003’s Catharsis and 2004’s The Illusion of Motion (discussed here), “The Mental Tyrant” from 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived (discussed here), the title-track from 2009’s The Great Cessation (review here), and “Adrift in the Ocean” from 2011’s Atma (review here).

Our Raw Heart stepped away from the modus somewhat in that its eponymous finale wasn’t the longest song on the record — that would be “Beauty in Falling Leaves,” two tracks earlier — but both of those seemed to build on what was done on Clearing the Path to Ascend. The point though is that “Marrow” didn’t just arrive out of nowhere. It came as the culmination of years of exploring texture and bringing together emotionality and sonic heft, the idea that something heavy could be a ritual of spirit as much as volume.

It was a new level of achievement for YOB, and it and the album that surrounded cemented their place among the most integral American bands of their generation, but more than that, it validated the connection between their audience and their music. It made it real. Among “Marrow”‘s accomplishments in pushing the band’s sound to places it had hinted at before, it was an open, real, honest look at what it means to be on either side of the subject/object divide, and maybe it even broke down that barrier a little bit, at least when it comes to a fan’s connections to YOB‘s own work.

It was that true moment, preserved.

Honorable Mention

There are, of course, many arguments to be made for many other songs. A few off the top of my head:

  • Stoned Jesus, “I’m the Mountain”
  • Elder, “Lore”
  • Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down”
  • Sleep, “Giza Butler”
  • Om, “Gethsemane”
  • Neurosis, “At the Well”
  • Colour Haze, “Grace”
  • Clutch, “D.C. Sound Attack”
  • Graveyard, “The Siren”

That’s nine, so I guess if you want to package this in some order as a top 10, you could. I’m content to leave it as is, since it’s all relative anyway. But consider the impact of that Stoned Jesus track or Elder‘s “Lore” in igniting and inspiring new bands. Same with Uncle Acid. Like “Marrow” above, these are the songs that continue to resonate and have an effect not just on the listeners, but the artists themselves and other bands in the underground ecosystem. I don’t think that just because the decade is ending that will stop, either. These works, which have already lasted a span of years, will continue to shape the experiences of others, and art will continue to grow outward from other art. There are few things so beautiful in the universe.

If you have a pick you’d like to add to any of the above, please feel free to do so in the comments. The more the merrier, and thanks for reading.

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