Dead Meadow to Release The Unhounded Now for PostWax Vol. II

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Okay, count with me. Dead Meadow, Acid King w/ Jason LandrianRezn & Vinnum SabbathiLowrider & Elephant TreeJosiahMammoth VolumeDopelordThe Otolith. That’s eight.

As Blues Funeral Recordings wrapped the well-over-its-goal by crowdfunding this past week for PostWax Vol. II, and as this announcement of Dead Meadow‘s The Unhounded Now is reported to be the final one by the label’s own social media posting, I can’t help but notice that somebody’s missing. I know I’m the guy who does the liner notes for PostWax, but I tell you now I have no idea who the ninth act is.

The PR wire below acknowledges one more to come, so I guess we’ll see soon enough. Here’s looking forward, also to Dead Meadow getting weird and jamming out for this:

postwax year two logo

DEAD MEADOW to issue special project as part of PostWax Vol.II vinyl series on Blues Funeral Recordings.

Washington-based modern psych rock luminaries DEAD MEADOW are set to release a special concept record as part of Blues Funeral Recordings upcoming PostWax Vol. II vinyl series. Also confirmed to take part in the series are Acid King, Lowrider, Elephant Tree, Mammoth Volume, Josiah, REZN and Vinnum Sabbathi.

Emerging in Washington, D.C. in the late 90s, DEAD MEADOW reached critical mass in the mid-2000s, creating a dreamy, universe-expanding blend of classic and forward-thinking psychedelic rock that puts them at the top of modern psych-rock tinged with post-metal, carving out a space somewhere between the Black Angels and Explosions in the Sky.

On the heels of a sublime Levitation Sessions performance at The Pillars of the Gods earlier this year, the band set to work creating a special release for PostWax Vol. II. They were encouraged to push even further into the cosmos, and for a band like this, who knows what far-reaching dimensions that might take them to? Of their forthcoming PostWax recordings, singer and guitarist Jason Simon says: “Dead Meadow present ‘The Unhounded Now’, a mostly instrumental outing of fuzzed-out drone, otherworldly melody, and eastern tinged celebration.”

Announcing a total of nine releases for their upcoming PostWax Vol. II series, Blues Funeral Recordings have already confirmed the participation of Acid King, Mammoth Volume, Josiah, as well as one-off collaborative albums between Lowrider / Elephant Tree, and REZN / Vinnum Sabbathi. The final band to join the series will be announced soon; don’t forget to head over their Kickstarter page to sign up for the series before it ends on Friday 30th April. The purpose of Postwax Vol. II is to create a curated series of releases that stand alone yet also connect, both through art elements and a musical throughline, in the form of next level collectible records for all heavy rock fans worldwide.

=> Get more info & subscribe to PostWax Vol. II at this location: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-vol-ii

https://www.facebook.com/bluesfuneral/
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Dead Meadow, “Rains in the Desert” Levitation Sessions

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The Otolith & Dopelord Announced for PostWax Vol. II

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 29th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

This brings us up to seven of the nine total inclusions for PostWax Vol. II, and if I tell you The Otolith‘s debut album is among the outings I’m most looking forward to in this series, I hope you’ll know I’m not exaggerating. Been waiting a couple years for that post-SubRosa outfit to release their first record, so yeah, I’ll take that as soon as humanly possible thank you very much. New Dopelord — their Reality Dagger EP (review here) — shows how far the reach of this project goes. They have a few albums out, of course, but like REZ and Vinnum Sabbathi, who’ll collaborate on a PostWax offering, they represent an up and coming generation of players. I like that they don’t seem to know what they’re going to do in the quote below. How about a film score? Really mess with people.

So, two more announcements to come, and then all will be revealed. I can’t wait to dig into these for the liner notes in the meantime:

postwax year two logo

DOPELORD and THE OTOLITH confirmed to release new albums as part of PostWax Vol. II vinyl series on Blues Funeral Recordings!

Blues Funeral Recordings announce the next bands to take part in the PostWax Vol. II vinyl subscription series. Polish stoner doom flag-bearers DOPELORD are set to crank their fuzz up to stratospheric levels, and Salt Lake City avant-garde doom unit THE OTOLITH (formed by SubRosa members) will issue their awaited debut album as part of the series.

Between Acid King, Lowrider, Mammoth Volume and Josiah, Blues Funeral Recordings has gathered a wealth of artists who have been hewing riffs from stone, sand and sky for decades, inviting them to bring their immense talents and peerless legacies to their ambitious PostWax series. But, as shown by the inclusions of REZN, Elephant Tree and Vinnum Sabbathi, they also put the spotlight on bands who represent stoner, doom and heavy scene’s present and future, ones with the benefit to peer across the generation of heavy rock greatness before them as they seek to forge enthusiastically forward.

Blues Funeral Recordings is happy to welcome Poland’s fuzz-doom emissaries DOPELORD on board today. These masters of monolithic normally follow a deeply DIY path, having self-released almost their entire catalog while still managing to secure worldwide adoration. Albums like ‘Children of the Haze’ and ‘Sign of the Devil’ are absolute monsters of granite-thick hallucinatory riff-tripping.

Dopelord’s Piotr Klusek declares: “We’ve been aware of the PostWax project for a few years now and thought it sounded interesting but wanted to see how it all came together, plus we were focusing on our new album. After releasing our latest record and seeing how the first PostWax series came out, we absolutely wanted to be involved if they did it again. Whatever we end up doing, look forward to something adventurous and fun but still massive and utterly Dopelord!”

As for THE OTOLITH, the new four-piece formed from the ashes of SubRosa, they will release their highly anticipated debut double LP as part of PostWax Vol. II. Those who’ve been following the aftermath of SubRosa’s dissolution know that Kim Cordray, Levi Hanna, Andy Patterson and Sarah Pendleton announced the formation of The Otolith in 2019, and tantalized acolytes of SubRosa’s avant-garde sonic palette with songs on Magnetic Eye Records’ one-off ‘Dirt [Redux]’ and ‘Women of Doom’ compilations.

THE OTOLITH hint: “Our debut album reveals the musical mutations and mystical wanderings of a soul, scanning the edges of the known universe through cracked glass. Ghostly symphonic strings interlace with crushing bass, guitar, and percussion; voices conducting signals across time and space to arrive through cosmic storms to a sea of liquid stars.”

The purpose of Postwax Vol. II is to create a curated series of releases that stand alone yet also connect, both through art elements and a musical throughline. Unearthing forgotten bands, unveiling new ones, and catching icons at the height of their powers, Blues Funeral Recordings are set to deliver yet another set of next level and highly collectible releases for all heavy rock, fuzz and doom fans out there.

=> Get more info & subscribe to PostWax Vol. II at this location: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-vol-ii

https://www.facebook.com/bluesfuneral/
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The Otolith, “Bone Dust”

Dopelord, Reality Dagger (2021)

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Jadd Shickler of Blues Funeral Recordings, Magnetic Eye Records & Ripple Music, Etc.

Posted in Questionnaire on April 23rd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

jadd shickler

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Jadd Shickler of Blues Funeral Recordings, et al

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I own and operate Blues Funeral Recordings, I’m the label director for Magnetic Eye Records, and I’m the label manager for Ripple Music. If I had to define it, I guess I’d say I’m a music industry professional in the independent heavy label world, although “music industry professional” sounds like a title crafted to sound good on LinkedIn. Basically, I work with underground heavy music for independent labels. I also sing for Blue Heron, the band that original Spiritu guitarist Mike Chavez and I started in 2018.

I came to do what I do when my best friend and I started All That’s Heavy, the world’s first online heavy rock mailorder, back in 1997 at the dawn of the internet, as well as launching our record label MeteorCity. We sold All That’s Heavy about 4 years later, and then sold MeteorCity in 2008.

I was a little bit disillusioned and left the industry for about a half dozen years, but started getting slowly drawn back in 2014 or so. I did some writing for The Ripple Effect and The Doom Charts, then finally ended up falling into a role with then one-man label Magnetic Eye Records in 2016. I had a day job at the time, but as my duties with Magnetic Eye expanded, my interest in doing more grew as well.

I got the idea for what would become the PostWax series around that time, and started working on it in the background of my day job and MER work.

In the spring of 2018, a couple things happened: the prospect of releasing a record myself propelled me to create a new label of my own so that I’d have the infrastructure in place for PostWax whenever it was ready. Ironically, the release which motivated that ended up not happening, but I’d already gone through so much of the setup to get this new label (Blues Funeral) off the ground that it inspired me to give it some attention.

Around the same time, I came to realize that I wasn’t super invested in my day job. My boss realized it too, and she started getting really toxic, which is somewhat understandable given what she was paying me while I was sneakily working on Magnetic Eye stuff from the office, but it still soured me on the job.

I finally decided to quit that summer, which I find a bit funny because I’ve been fired from nearly every “real” job I ever had, but for the first time, I took the step of leaving into my own hands, even though it was the best-paying day job I’d ever had by that point. I nearly took a new day job the following month to replace, but in a moment of passion-driven risk and with support from my wife, I decided to pass on it to see if I could try to make an actual living in the music industry for the first time in my life.

We racked up debt for the next year or so, during which time I joined Ripple Music to handle production and a variety of logistical stuff, as well as launching the first PostWax series. In mid-2019, I was able to facilitate the purchase of Magnetic Eye Records by a larger label group, and part of the deal was that they’d keep me on as label director once the buyout took effect. So, after getting my start in the music industry in late 1997, it became my full-time career on January 1st, 2020, and that’s how I got where I am today, running two labels and working for a third, and not having to supplement what I do with having a traditional day job.

Describe your first musical memory.

I’ve got a few and can’t recall which one is first, but it’s one of these two:

jadd hit explosionThe first record I ever asked for and got which wasn’t a kid’s record was a vinyl compilation called Hit Explosion that came out in 1983 from K-Tel. It’s got tracks from Joan Jett, Rush, REO Speedwagon, Rod Stewart, the Steve Miller Band, and Survivor (yes, “Eye of the Tiger.” Hell yes.). I saw TV ads for it and my parents got it for me, and I would play it down in this big den with high ceilings and a red brick floor where the record player was set up on this wide wooden bookcase, and I’d lay in this brown beanbag chair on the floor with light streaming in from the huge sliding glass door and listen to those songs till I knew every word to every song, even the ones I liked less than others. I think it laid the groundwork for me to appreciate compilations and the idea of someone with a certain level of musical intelligence choosing songs from different artists to put together. It was also the first music I ever found for myself, instead of just listening to whatever my parents played. By the way, I still have this record, nearly 40 years later. It’s warped as hell and beat to shit, but it’s still with me.

My other early memory is listening to my Dad’s Neil Diamond records in that same den on that same stereo and record player. When you’re a kid and before you start to develop your own tastes, you just kind of absorb whatever those around you (like your parents) care about, and my God, did my Dad love Neil Diamond. So I was just kind of always around when he’d be listening to various albums and it got in my DNA. This was obviously not the beginning of my love affair with heavy rock, but it does give me a great connection to caring about music a ton from an early age, always having it playing, always spinning records, and listening to albums from start to finish and flipping the sides. I can still visualize that den and that record player and bean bag chair perfectly, better than I can remember a lot of other stuff from the past 20 years, haha.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

It’s impossible for me to pick just one as THE BEST, but here’s one I love: At the end of my sophomore year of high school, so May of 1990, my best friend Aaron and I went to see Motley Crüe on the Dr. Feelgood tour. It was my first concert. I’d never been to a real show before, and going inside after showing our tickets, we emerged from the tunnel at the far end of Tingley Coliseum and looked longways down the huge oblong auditorium. We were up in the area with the seats above the railing because we hadn’t paid for floor tickets (not sure why, maybe they were sold out, or maybe too expensive). So we were standing basically all the way down the other end of the place looking at the stage from about as far away as we could be. Just then, within like 90 seconds of us coming up from the stairwell and trying to decide what to do, we saw a fight erupt down on the floor between a concert-goer and several of the show’s security guys. All the other security people started running toward the fight, and as soon as they did, attendees on the other side of the auditorium started jumping the railing and pouring down onto the floor and running to go mix in with the rest of the crowd. Aaron and I looked at each other, and I don’t remember saying anything, we just jumped the railing and ran straight into the crowd. That was the start of our first concert – a risk of getting our asses kicked by security and a successful upgrade of where we’d see the show. The concert itself is a bit of a blur, but the two highlights I remember are Lita Ford, who was opening the show, playing “Close My Eyes Forever” and having the crowd sing the Ozzy part, which we did, and then Tommy Lee doing a drum solo during Crüe’s set where he rode some kind of suspended cable car drum kit out over the crowd, so he was basically hanging above us doing his solo as we watched from below. I don’t really ever think about Motley Crüe as a musical influence, but that concert was a great musical memory among many many many that I’ve got.

For good measure, another great music memory is when my old band Spiritu toured as an opener with Clutch and Spiritual Beggars in Europe in 2003. We shared the opening slot with Dozer, so every night for three weeks, we played all over Europe, trading the first and second slot with Dozer each night (and then getting to go watch Dozer, which was awesome), and then I would go out into the crowd and watch Clutch DESTROY. As a Clutch fan, getting to travel to dozens of cities across Europe and watch one of the greatest live bands of all time, who also happens to be one of your favorites, who you also happen to be opening for, is just indescribable. The highlight was somewhere in Germany when, during a short pause between songs when the noise briefly dropped, this giant 6′ 6″ dude yelled out, “Like Marlon Brando, but bigger!” in an almost comically-exaggerated German accent, carrying through the whole theater and making Neil and the whole band briefly crack up, then look at each other immediately launch into playing “John Wilkes Booth.” Three weeks of that! Amazing times.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Well, I’m not sure if this fits what you’re saying, and it’s going to sound like a sales pitch for PostWax, but it’s not, this actually happened: Maybe two months ago, my creative director Peder (from Lowrider) and I were talking about filling the last couple slots on PostWax, and he mentioned a band to me that basically has an all-star lineup but who I really don’t care for. I’m not going to say who they are because I don’t want to shit on them for those who dig what they do, but PostWax (to me) is about putting together a lineup of bands that at least one of the three of us choosing artists for the project absolutely loves, and never letting our decisions be guided by how big of a name someone is or whether having them on board might help sell the project. So I basically told Peder, if YOU love them, I might consider it, but if not, let’s not do it.

I’d consider this a test of a firm belief because otherwise, why don’t we go try to lure on some huge emo-metal band to join the project just so we can blow out another 2,000 signups? I’d rather pick bands we love that satisfy the ethic of only working with bands at least one of us deeply believes in and loves musically. And by the way, this belief was established quite a few years ago when I was running MeteorCity and put out a couple things that I did mainly based on the idea that they would sell, and not because I thought there were awesome bands. I did that Hermano record, and the Gallery of Mites record, and the Orquesta del Desierto albums, all first and foremost because of the names involved. There were moments on all of them that I enjoyed musically, but I didn’t go into them feeling moved or inspired as a listener, I was thinking of who the musicians were and how their names would get people to check out the records, not about what I thought of the actual music. So yeah, I’ll never do that again, and would much sooner get behind an unknown band with a niche sound and no fans but whose music I love than ever put my money or label name on something that’s coming from a place of, “people will buy this” ever again.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Ha, probably to eventually making a record that not a ton of people besides the artist likes. Not trying to be cynical, but if you’re an artist, there are probably two paths: you make music you like and no one ever cares but you’re happy with what you’re doing, OR, you make something that some people like, and that sets an expectation for everything else you’ll ever do, and eventually, whether it’s your next album or your tenth album, you’ll be sick of trying to deliver something that lives up to what everyone else liked and just make a record you dig, and people will be like, “Too bad, I liked his old stuff better.” I think that’s inevitable, but not a bad thing really. You have to progress, even if followers and fans of your art aren’t always willing to stick with you while you go. I mean, if you just try to rehash what’s already been done, they’ll see through that as well and call you on it.

How do you define success?

Thank God you’re asking easy questions.

I’d probably say success is feeling great about what you’re doing. I’m earning less these days than in at least a couple of my previous “career” jobs, but I’m far happier with what I do and thus feel more successful. I know that being able to buy whatever you want, travel wherever you want to go, eat out every night probably feels pretty fantastic too, but I have a hard time imagining being able to do anything I didn’t love or believe in what I was doing in order to reach that point. If I could have that AND do something I feel great about, then awesome. But if they’re mutually exclusive, then for me the road to success will always need to be paved by personal and artistic satisfaction first and foremost.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Literally this morning I saw a dead dog, a pit bull, in a dumpster. It was in its crate, which means this was someone’s pet, and regardless of how it died, the idea that someone felt that the way to lay this dog to rest was to pick up the whole crate with the dog inside and drop it into a dumpster on the street is fucking revolting. Some human beings are just slime, and this world loves to remind us of that fact.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

Well, I’d like to make a record with my band that I want to listen to from end to end without questioning whether it’s good or if I’m being objective or noticing the flaws. This is probably something that’s impossible for any musician, so I’m not holding my breath, but yeah. My old band only recorded and released a few things, so I’m hoping that Blue Heron is able to make a record that I can enjoy without caveats as a listener, and just dig musically and be proud of.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

I love this question, because I think about this a lot: I think art is the only value humanity actually has. When I think about all the awful shitty things we do to the planet, animals, each other, etc., it’s hard not to wish for a comet to hit the planet and reset everything. But we create art, and that to me is our only saving grace. We transcend our urges and our pettiness and our destructive tendencies and tap into something more meaningful and lasting when we create art, whether that’s music or paintings or books, and if we didn’t do that, I’d have no hope for us whatsoever. So, I guess the specific answer to your question is, the most essential function of art is justifying humanity’s existence. A bit dark, I guess, but how I feel.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

New Ghostbusters and Top Gun movies, which will probably both suck, but for the moment I’m excited. I know you said non-musical, but I have to say, being able to go to small-club shows again also. And my wife and I will be taking our first trip to Europe together later this year. She’s never been out of the country, and I haven’t been in fourteen years, so I basically haven’t been abroad as a grownup. Can’t wait.

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Spiritu, “Throwback”

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Mammoth Volume Join PostWax Vol. II Lineup with New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Like Josiah before them, Sweden’s Mammoth Volume will return with their first album in more than a decade’s time as part of Blues Funeral Recordings‘ PostWax series. They’re next on my list for liner notes, as it happens. They join the ranks of Acid King, a REZN/Vinnum Sabbathi collaboration, Elephant Tree and Lowrider, and the aforementioned Josiah in taking part in PostWax Vol. II, and in addition to announcing their involvement below, the PR wire also brings word that art is being handled by Johnny Dombrowski and Maarten Donders, who will alternate covers back and forth and collaborate on a piece together as well, which presumably (that is, I don’t know this for sure, but imagine so) will be used as front-piece for the eventual box that will contain all the Vol. II PostWax offerings.

That’s five of the nine PostWax unveilings in the bag, and if you’re not sure whether or not you should be stoked on Mammoth Volume — who first announced their reunion last summer — putting out a new record, I wholeheartedly invite you to dig into 2001’s A Single Book of Songs By… at the bottom of this post. Another pre-social media gem from the turn of the century, it is.

Dig:

mammoth volume

Swedish stoner prog veterans MAMMOTH VOLUME to release new album as part of PostWax Vol. II vinyl subscription series on Blues Funeral Recordings

Swedish stoner prog veterans MAMMOTH VOLUME are confirmed to take part in Blues Funeral Recordings’ anticipated PostWax Vol. II vinyl series by releasing their first album in almost twenty years. Blues Funeral Recordings also present the art team to provide the illustrations and artwork on PostWax Vol. II: heavy music scene stalwart Maarten Donders and award-winning artist Johnny Dombrowski.

In the years between 1998 and 2002, MAMMOTH VOLUME released three albums that each made an increasingly massive impact among the growing worldwide heavy-rock community. With a style that blended an affection for American desert rock but was just as deeply characterized by a passion for 70s prog, jazzy breaks and wistful passages, their quirky take on heavy rock offered an angular yet infectious alternative to the boogie van riffage advanced by so many of the genre’s purveyors.

Re-activated in 2019, MAMMOTH VOLUME will soon return with a new album that’s vibrating with long-bottled-up energy. Drummer and founder Nicklas Andersson says: “Mammoth Volume is back, stronger than ever. It will be incredibly exciting to share our new music with the people for the first time in quite a few years. One thing is certain: this is exactly the record we wanted to make as we return to underground heavy scene, and we’re anxious for everyone to hear it!”

The work of heavy music art veteran Maarten Donders is known for its surreal, experimental, almost dreamlike qualities, and he has provided handmade illustrations, logos, designs and creative direction for countless musicians, bands, record labels, artists, magazines and venues in the music world. His work includes album covers and posters for the likes of Roadburn, Windhand, Monolord, Graveyard and Brant Bjork. Brooklyn-based award-winning illustrator Johnny Dombrowski has produced pieces for The New York Times, Penguin Random House, StudioCanal, GQ, Black Dragon Press and more. Recently, he has ventured into replicating, as closely as possible, the process and aging of pre-digital comic books. What started as an experiment soon turned into an obsession, taking influence over his client work and technique.

These two illustrators will alternate in creating album covers for each of the PostWax Vol. II releases, as well as contributing other elements throughout the process and collaborating on one cover piece, all under the art direction of Peder Bergstrand.

=> Get more info and subscribe to the PostWax Vol. II
AT THIS LOCATION: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-vol-ii

The PostWax series present exclusive limited edition records from some of the best stoner rock, doom and heavy psych bands on the planet. Benefiting from a spectacular success in 2018, PostWax Year One debuted releases to subscribers first, which were subsequently issued in standard retail versions to the public several months later. With Acid King, Josiah, Lowrider, Elephant Tree, REZN and Vinnum Sabbathi already announced, the upcoming PostWax Vol. II series will present 9 deluxe releases on gorgeous vinyl, with each record including at least one exclusive track only available to subscribers, also coming with next-level sleeve design, hand-crafted art and behind-the-scenes liner notes. The first PostWax Vol. II release will be delivered directly to subscribers in the summer of 2021.

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Mammoth Volume, A Single Book of Songs By… (2001)

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PostWax Announces Releases From Lowrider & Elephant Tree and Vinnum Sabbathi with REZN

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 14th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Year two of the vinyl subscription service PostWax continues to roll out an impressive array of artists. As I write this, I’m about an hour away from hopping on the ol’ teleputer to talk to Mat Bethancourt of Josiah about their offering, and then I guess it’s on to the next one, which actually hasn’t been announced yet, but also rules. I’m hoping to have the liner notes in by the end of the week. Today’s Monday, right? Ha.

Anyhow, including the likes of REZN, Vinnum Sabbathi (a collaboration between the two) and Lowrider and Elephant Tree (a split with an exclusive collaborative track), doesn’t hurt the project’s case any, and at least I know there will be plenty to talk about when it comes time to putting together the liner notes. Like I said when Josiah and the Acid King-plus inclusions were announced, I don’t need to sell you on the thing. Now that four of the total nine offerings have been unveiled, that seems even more to be the case.

From the PR wire:

postwax year two logo

LOWRIDER and ELEPHANT TREE team up to release special split record as part of PostWax Vol. II vinyl series on Blues Funeral Recordings!

Blues Funeral Recordings announce the next colossal pairing of artists to take part in their PostWax Vol. II series, with Swedish stoner rock legends LOWRIDER and London’s most treasured heavy rockers ELEPHANT TREE. This mind-boggling union will give rise to a special split record, with details to be unveiled soon.

Heavy rock icons ELEPHANT TREE, whose 2020 album ‘Habits’ is a decimating blend of organic fuzz-fueled bliss and transcendent vocal hookery, and LOWRIDER, whose unassailable ‘Refractions’ LP blasted across 2020’s heavy music landscape like an extinction-level desert storm and swept top honors for the year throughout the scene, are joining forces for a titanic special release on PostWax.

Each band will produce a trio of new tracks for this unparalleled split record, topped off by a seventh collaborative tune forged exclusively for PostWax — which will only be available to the series subscribers.

Elephant Tree’s Jack Townley gushes: “When we were flanked by Jadd and Peder about serving up a juicy slab of riffage, we were delighted! We’d been massive fans of Lowrider’s chops since we started out as a band, so didn’t skirt around or mince words when we replied “yes!” with gravy on top! We came up with the idea to go whole hog and collab on a track as well, and now here we are. It’s rare these days to find projects as different and exciting as PostWax, and the veritable carvery of bands on board is mouth-watering. Sausage.”

Lowrider’s Peder Bergstrand adds: “Few releases have moved me the way Elephant Tree’s Habits did. My most played track of 2020 was easily “Sails” and honestly I think Elephant Tree in many ways is the most original flavor of heavy rock I’ve heard in ages, and exactly what the scene needs. I love how they weave blissful and mellow with absolute skull crushing heavy for a blend that’s uniquely their own. The idea of doing a split together, and a PostWax exclusive collaborative track at that, has got us enormously stoked. I have a feeling this will be a very, very special album.”

REZN and VINNUM SABBATHI for new PostWax Vol. II series; Kickstarter for subscription signups live now

Blues Funeral Recordings reveal Chicago’s REZN and Mexico City’s VINNUM SABBATHI as the next two bands to take part in the second volume of their PostWax vinyl subscription series, this time for a special collaborative release.

The joining of REZN’s gargantuan heaviness and lysergic dreamscapes with VINNUM SABBATHI’s hypnotic and jammy superscience soundtracks is the exact type of aural mind-meld that PostWax was conceived to present. These two avant-garde outfits will deliver one massive and ground-breaking effort, one that has chance to make an impression among heavy music lovers and beyond.

REZN guitarist Rob McWilliams elaborates: “Our intention is to give this collaboration a solid REZN foundation with Vinnum Sabbathi providing the cosmic textures and atmosphere to align it all under the same sonic storyline. We’ve been talking about doing something together for a little while now, since our bands are a great match sonically and already sync up in a lot of ways. In the end, we’ll have a roasty REZN dish with a decadent Vinnum Sabbathi glaze.”

VINNUM SABBATHI guitarist Juan Tamayo adds: “For us, this collaboration with REZN is very special. From the day we played with them in Mexico, we knew we wanted to create something together, and being able to do it with Blues Funeral for the PostWax series is a great privilege. We can’t wait to make something truly unique by adding a story to the sonic landscapes, and all the fans are in for some cosmic epicness.”

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PostWax Announces New Releases From Acid King & Josiah

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 7th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Yeah, I knew this announcement was coming. Didn’t know when, but yes. I tried to drop hints about new Josiah in writing about the UK band’s forthcoming reissue on Heavy Psych Sounds, but I didn’t want to inadvertently give anything away. And you should note that Acid King bringing Jason Landrian aboard as part of an expanded lineup for this release kind of makes that band combined with Black Cobra, since Rafa Martinez, who drums in the latter, plays bass in the former. I do not expect the liner notes to be easy to write. I need to talk to Josiah‘s Mat Bethanourt this week and get on it before I start holding up vinyl pressing. Again. Which I probably already am.

I’m not going to try to sell you on the thing — that’s not my job — but I know a couple other of the NINE — oh my god — releases coming out as part of PostWax Vol. II, and there’s not what you’d call a “filler” in the bunch.

This came down the PR wire. Nine volumes. Oof…:

postwax year ii logo

ACID KING and JOSIAH to release new music as part of PostWax Vol. II series; Blues Funeral Recordings launches Kickstarter for exclusive vinyl subscription!

Blues Funeral Recordings have revealed stoner metal pillars ACID KING and cult heavy psych rockers JOSIAH will join the second volume of their groundbreaking PostWax vinyl subscription series. The label launched a Kickstarter on April 1st to sign up subscribers for the 9-volume project.

The PostWax series presents exclusive limited edition records from some of the best stoner rock, doom and heavy psych bands on the planet. Benefiting from a spectacular Kickstarter success in 2018, PostWax Year One debuted monster releases to subscribers first — including Elder’s “The Gold & Silver Sessions” and the seminal comeback album “Refractions” from Lowrider — which were subsequently released in standard retail versions to the public several months later.

Announced on the PostWax Vol. II series are Bay Area legends ACID KING, who are joining forces with Jason Landrian (Black Cobra) and Bryce Shelton (Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, Bädr Vogu, High Tone Son of a Bitch) for a mind-altering soundtrack-inspired sonic journey created exclusively for this project.

PostWax Vol. II will also mark the blistering return of Britain’s the fuzz-fueled power trio JOSIAH, who are making the most of the Blues Funeral collaboration to present their first studio album in over a decade, the followup to their 2009 Eletrohasch release ‘Procession’. Fans of heavy-psych meets straight ahead riff-rock should take notice!

PostWax Vol. II will unfold as a series of 9 deluxe releases on gorgeous vinyl, with every record set to include at least one exclusive track that only those who join PostWax will ever receive. Blues Funeral also invited each band to contribute one or more riffs to a “share pool” that every other band in the series can dip into and to integrate into what they’re doing, in order to create more connectivity and shared DNA across all the releases in the series.

View the PostWax Vol. II Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bluesfuneral/postwax-vol-ii

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Lowrider Premiere “Red River” Video with Fan Footage

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 5th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

lowrider

The charm here is not hard to see. Whether it’s fans dancing in hallways, playing guitar on a ride-on mower, or vacuum, or headbanging with their kids, or even a couple snuck-in shots of the band members themselves, Lowrider‘s video for “Red River” — premiering below — finds a way to make a celebration out of what was, let’s face it, a hard and terrible time last year.

At some point — I could find the day but does it matter? — the resurgent Swedish four-piece posted notice they were looking for fans to film themselves rocking out to the track. As they were unable to play shows to support their first album in 20 years, Refractions (review here), it seemed a fair enough way to keep in touch. I only regret not taking part, but, well, I’ve never been very good at ‘fun.’

Clearly that’s not a problem for Lowrider‘s fanbase generally. The video is a blast, and after the barrage of year-end praise Refractions has received — it was best album of 2020 here as well as in any number of other places — it seems only fair to unveil “Red River” and the obvious spirit of love that drove its making, both on fans’ part and the band’s.

What’s most obvious is that for a lot of people, Refractions was an album that provided some relief, maybe/maybe not some escape, from the realities of a global pandemic, pervasive economic and political instability, and the crushing anxiety that felt so prevalent throughout 2020 and shows zero sign of abating in this still-nascent 2021. Give it a while. We may yet look back on last April as simpler times.

But even if that comes to pass, look at this. Look at humans enjoying a thing. Remember that good times can exist even in dark days. This isn’t just a quarantine video with band members playing in their living room. It’s a quarantine video where everybody plays in their living room. Well, mostly dudes, but you get the point.

Congratulations to Lowrider — bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist, guitarist Niclas Stålfors and drummer Andreas Eriksson — and to Blues Funeral Recordings on all the enduring affection Refractions has received. It is nothing if not deserved.

Enjoy the video:

Lowrider, “Red River” official video premiere

Peder Bergstrand on “Red River”:

“Let’s face it, it was a weird, long, hard year for everyone. When we were gearing up to put out Refractions after working on it pretty much for seven years straight, everything was still normal. We were so excited to share the album with everyone, but dreams of festivals and gigs changed pretty much instantly by the time it was released. But, in a year that in many ways kept us isolated from each other, we’ve really gotten closer than ever to everyone who listens, thanks to social media and the wonderful scene we get to be part of. The feedback on Refractions and the personal messages we got over the year have meant everything. And, with recent year-end lists lifting Refractions up high, often to the highest spot, we wanted to say thank you to everyone, and give something back that shows just how special this scene is. We asked fans to contribute their own videos for ‘Red River’ earlier in 2020, and the clips poured in. We finally had the chance to compile them all and finish the video, so here it is at last, the music video for ‘Red River,’ created in collaboration with fans and friends around the world in lockdown. It’s sort of a visualization of the undeniable fact that this band would not be here, and this record would not exist, if it wasn’t for all of you. So, again, this is our thanks. We’ll forever be grateful, beyond words. Thank you thank you thank you. New music soon. Promise. We love you all.”

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

Posted in Features on December 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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[PLEASE NOTE: These are not the results of the year-end poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t contributed your list to the cause yet, please do so here.]

Invariably, the ultimate measure of 2020 will be in lives and livelihoods lost around the world. I have nothing to add to the discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic that others haven’t said in more articulate and precise language. Suffice it to note that 2020 was the year that the very concept of “unprecedented” itself became trite.

One does not have to look far to find positives amid the devastation. Creativity continues to flourish. Art cannot be killed. Even locked away from each other in quarantine, artists will continue to reach out, to collaborate, to fulfill the human need for expression that has driven the species since cave drawings and will no doubt be the ruins we leave behind us when we’re gone.

In underground music, it was simply overwhelming. And though I’ll admit it was hard at times to listen to music and divorce it from the larger context of what was happening in the world — it was there like a background buzz — this year reinforced how necessary music is, not only as an escape or a source of income for those who make/promote it, but as an integral component of life and community. Absences have been keenly felt.

I won’t try to sate you with platitudes, to say “things will get better.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. One year turning to the next does not fix broken systems and it does not cure raging plagues. It’s just a number. Arbitrary except as a convenient marker for things like this, births, deaths, and so on. Bookkeeping.

Before I turn you over to the lists: Please be kind in the comments if you choose to leave one. To me. To other people. To yourself. These lists are culled from my listening preference and what I consider of critical importance. But I’m one person. If there’s something you feel has been left out, say so. I ask you only to do so in a spirit of friendship rather than argument. Thank you in advance.

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Okay:

The Top 50 Albums of 2020

#50-31

50. Sun Crow, Quest for Oblivion
49. Atramentus, Stygian
48. Arcadian Child, Protopsycho
47. Fuzz, III
46. Jointhugger, I Am No One
45. Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
44. Switchblade Jesus, Death Hymns
43. Foot, The Balance of Nature Shifted
42. Hymn, Breach Us
41. IAH, III
40. Lord Fowl, Glorious Babylon
39. Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos
38. 1000mods, Youth of Dissent
37. Deathwhite, Grave Image
36. Soldati, Doom Nacional
35. Cortez, Sell the Future
34. Kadavar, The Isolation Tapes
33. Black Rainbows, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip
32. Shadow Witch, Under the Shadow of a Witch
31. Insect Ark, The Vanishing

Notes: To say nothing of the honorable mentions that follow the rest of the list below, immediately we see the problem of so-many-albums-not-enough-space. People talk about a top 50 as ridiculous, like there’s no way you can like that much music. Bullshit. I agonized over how to fit Sun Crow on this list because their Quest for Oblivion felt like it deserved to be here. Ditto that for Arcadian Child. And the achievements of bands like Kadavar, 1000mods and Switchblade Jesus and Insect Ark in breaking the boundaries of their own aesthetics deserve every accolade they can get, and likewise those who progressed in their sound like Cortez, Shadow Witch, Lord Fowl, Hymn, Foot, Black Rainbows, Deathwhite and IAH. Add to that the debuts from Atramentus, Dirt Woman, Jointhugger, Acid Mess and Sergio Ch.’s Soldati, and you’ve got a batch of 20 records — some born of this year’s malaise, some working in spite of it — that vary in sound but are working to push their respective styles to new places one way or the other.

30. High Priestess, Casting the Circle

high priestess casting the circle

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 5.

There was no shortage of anticipation for what L.A. cultists High Priestess would do to follow their 2018 self-titled debut (review here), and the three-piece did not disappoint, instead gave a ritual mass that included the 17-minute concept piece “Invocation” alongside infectious and ethereal melodies like “The Hourglass.” And now that the circle’s been cast? Seems like they can do anything.

29. Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation

Polymoon Caterpillars of Creation

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Oct. 12.

High-powered cosmic metal from Finland pulling apart heavy psychedelia on an atomic level with an urgency that speaks of youth, progress and an ingrained need for exploration? Sign me up. A lot of bands on this list put out their first album this year. There are few for whom my hopes are as high as they are for Polymoon. If you haven’t yet heard Caterpillars of Creation, do.

28. Sons of Otis, Isolation

Sons of Otis Isolation

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Sept. 30.

Of the sundry horrors 2020 wrought, a new album from long-running Toronto three-piece Sons of Otis was an unexpected positive, and their ultra-spaced, murky riffs on their first studio album since 2012’s Seismic (review here, also here) launched like a slow-motion escape pod of righteous doom (s)tonality. There will never be another Sons of Otis. Be thankful for everything you get from them.

27. Lamp of the Universe, Dead Shrine

Lamp of the Universe Dead Shrine

Released by Projection Records. Reviewed May 25.

Organ, Mellotron, sitar, acoustic and electric guitars, various percussion elements, and of course the inimitable fragility in Craig Williamson‘s voice itself — the ingredients for Lamp of the Universe‘s Dead Shrine were familiar enough for those familiar with the one-man outfit running more than two decades, but the lush acid folk created remains a standout the world over. Dead Shrine was a much-needed gift of peace and meditation.

26. BleakHeart, Dream Griever

bleakheart dream griever

Released by Sailor Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

The debut album from Colorado’s BleakHeart collected pieces united by melody and overarching atmosphere, positioned stylistically somewhere around heavygaze or heavy post-rock, but feeling less limited to genre bounds than some others working in a similar sphere. As a first outing, it brought a promise of things to come even as the depths of its mix seemed to swallow the listener entirely, equal parts serving claustrophobia and escapism.

25. Pale Divine, Consequence of Time

Pale Divine Consequence of Time

Released by Cruz Del Sur Music. Reviewed June 3.

There is not enough space here to properly commend Pale Divine founding guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener on how much he opened up the band by bringing in his and drummer Darin McCloskey‘s former Beelzefuzz bandmate Dana Ortt on shared guitar, vocal and songwriting duties. Completed by Ron “Fezz” McGinnis on bass/vocals, Pale Divine are a refreshed and ready powerhouse of American traditional doom.

24. Uncle Woe, Phantomescence

uncle woe phantomescence

Released by Packard Black Productions. Reviewed Oct. 21.

One is going to have to get used to the idea of Uncle Woe residing in the places between, I think. An inward-looking cosmic doom that’s likewise morose and reaching, opaque and translucent, Phantomescence could be almost troubling in its feeling of off-kilter expression. Yet that’s exactly what multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rain Fice was going for. Thriving on contradiction, exploratory, and individualized. Start from doom, move outward.

23. REZN, Chaotic Divine

rezn chaotic divine

Released by Off the Record Label. Reviewed Oct. 15.

I don’t feel like I’m cool enough to offer any substantive comment on what Chicago’s REZN do, but their sax-laced heavy psychedelia comes across warm and is invitingly languid while still delivered with a sense of energy and purpose. It rolls and you want to roll with it, so you do. They were clearly hurt by not being able to tour this year, as were audiences for not seeing them. Call them neo-stoner metal or whatever you want, these songs deserve to be played live.

22. Ruff Majik, The Devil’s Cattle

ruff majik the devils cattle

Released by Mongrel Records. Reviewed Oct. 29.

A revamped lineup for South African desert-ish heavy rockers Ruff Majik brought producer Evert Snyman in as co-conspirator with frontman/principal songwriter Johni Holiday, and found the former trio working as a five-piece with a broader sound underscored by an electric sense of purpose and willingness to push themselves to places they hadn’t gone before. Their third record, it seemed as well to be a new beginning, and they met the challenge head-on.

21. Curse the Son, Excruciation

Curse The Son Excruciation

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 8.

The underheralded children of rolling fuzz riffage, Connecticut’s Curse the Son found new depths of emotion to bring to Excruciation — and I do mean “depths.” Dark times for dark times. Fueled by personal hardship, turmoil, motorcycle accidents and a pervasive sense of struggle, the LP was nonetheless a triumph of their songwriting and brought new melodic character to their established largesse of tone. Your loss if you missed it.

20. The Atomic Bitchwax, Scorpio

The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Business as usual in ferocious heavy/speed rock from The Atomic Bitchwax on Scorpio — and that was only reassuring since the band’s eighth full-length marked the first since the departure of guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and his replacing with Garrett Sweeny, a bandmate of founding bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and drummer Bob Pantella in Monster Magnet. They barely stopped to cool their heels and yet still managed to be catchy as hell. How do they do it? Jersey Magic.

19. Cinder Well, No Summer

cinder well no summer

Released by Free Dirt Records. Reviewed July 21.

Such pervasive melancholy could only be derived from Irish folk, and so it was on Cinder Well‘s No Summer, which managed to move between singer-songwriter minimalism from Amelia Baker and arrangements of deceptive and purposeful intricacy. Wherever it went, from traditional songs “Wandering Boy” and “The Cuckoo” to originals like “Fallen” and the nine-minute “Our Lady’s,” it was equal parts gorgeous and sad and resonant. It remains so, despite the fleeting season.

18. Pallbearer, Forgotten Days

pallbearer forgotten days

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Dec. 24.

Their fourth album and first since crossing the decade-mark since their inception, Pallbearer‘s Forgotten Days wasn’t just heavy, emotional or big-sounding; it was the most their-own of anything they’ve done. It felt exactly like the record they wanted it to be, and reconfirmed that the generation of listeners being introduced to doom by their music is going to be just fine if they follow the cues laid out for them here.

17. Slift, Ummon

slift ummon

Released by Stolen Body and Vicious Circle Records. Reviewed March 26.

Less a reinvention of space rock than a kick in its ass, Slift‘s Ummon pushed well past the line of manageability at 72 minutes and reveled in that. The French outfit were greeted as liberators when they released the album, and with the way the respect has been maintained in the months since they’ve given themselves a high standard to meet, but there’s only promise to be heard as you get lost in the nebular wash of this sprawling 2LP. They’ll have two more records out before this one’s fully digested.

16. My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion

my dying bride the ghost of orion

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Feb. 25.

The first album in half a decade from long-established UK death-doom forebears My Dying Bride found vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe coping with his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and translating that into the morose poetry for which the band is so well known and with which they’ve been so influential. My Dying Bride has never wanted for sincerity, but to call them affecting here would be underselling the quality of their craft and the heart they put into it. Follow-up EP is already out with extra non-album tracks.

15. Causa Sui, Szabodelico

causa sui Szabodelico

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Nov. 11.

Denmark’s Causa Sui may be on a mission to unite jazz and heavy psychedelia — and blessings on them for that — but the mellow jammy vibes they conjured on Szabodelico only emphasized how much it’s the character of what they do and the chemistry they’ve brought as bandmates that has allowed them to branch thusly in terms of aesthetic. It was the kind of album you wanted to put on again even before it was over, and its sweet instrumentals felt born to a greater timeline than a single year can encompass.

14. All Souls, Songs for the End of the World

All Souls Songs for the End of the World

Self-released. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I’m not a punk rocker, but All Souls make me wish I was. Their emotive and engaged heavy rock looks out as much as in on Songs for the End of the World — their second LP behind a 2018 self-titled debut (review here) — but it’s undeniably punk in its foundation, and what the four-piece of Antonio Aguilar and Meg Castellanos (both ex-Totimoshi), Erik Trammell (Black Elk) and Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson) have put together builds on that in exciting, inventive and individualized ways, while staying nonetheless true to its roots.

13. Kind, Mental Nudge

kind mental nudge

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 20.

Five years after their debut album, Rocket Science (review here), Boston four-piece Kind return with Mental Nudge. And despite the different situations in which it finds the band’s members — bassist Tom Corino is now ex-Rozamov, drummer Matt Couto now ex-Elder — the group’s focus remains on carving memorable, mostly structured tracks out of ethereal heavy psychedelia, guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, etc.) and vocalist Craig Riggs (RoadsawSasquatch, etc.) adding space and melody to the crunching, driving grooves.

12. Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Released by Season of Mist. Featured Aug. 17.

Founded by vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) and guitarist Oeds Beydals (ex-Death Alley, also ex-The Devil’s Blood) and commissioned as a project for Roadburn Festival 2019 (review here), Molassess are inextricably tied to Lemouchi‘s groundbreaking former outfit and its tragic ending, but the musical branching out into darkened progressive textures on Through the Hollow isn’t to be understated. It was an album that pushed past the past, not overlooking it, but finding new ways of moving forward in life and sound.

11. Tony Reed, Funeral Suit

tony reed funeral suit

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Sept. 28.

While of course the Mos Generator frontman is no stranger to writing or recording on his own, Funeral Suit was Tony Reed‘s debut as a solo artist and it carried his progressive stamp in melody and arrangement. It was not just a guitarist playing acoustic instead of electric, and it was not a manifestation of self-indulgence. Whether it was reworking a Mos Generator song like “Lonely One Kenobi” or pursuing a new piece like the title-track or “Waterbirth,” Reed found balance between personal and audience, evoking traditional songsmithing even as he reminded listeners of his dual role as a producer.

10. Geezer, Groovy

Geezer Groovy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed May 18.

Spectacular showing from Kingston kingpins Geezer with Groovy as their first offering for Heavy Psych Sounds. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington, the three-piece brought material that flowed with the organic feel of jams despite being structured and catchy songs. In pieces like “Dead Soul Scroll” and “Drowning on Empty,” they melded stonerized groove with what felt like genuine emotional expression, and “Dig” and “Groovy” still managed to be a heavy fuzz-blues party. And they still had room at the end to jam out on “Slide Mountain” and “Black Owl.” It was nothing but a win, rising to the occasion on every level.

9. Big Scenic Nowhere, Vision Beyond Horizon

big scenic nowhere vision beyond horizon

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Jan. 29.

So Bob Balch from Fu Manchu and Gary Arce from Yawning Man have a band. They get Tony Reed from Mos Generator on board. Mario Lalli from Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson comes and goes. Nick Oliveri comes and goes. Bill Stinson from Yawning Man plays drums. Alain Johannes sits in on vocals. Reed does a bunch of vocals; his kid does a track too. Per Wiberg from Spiritual Beggars, Opeth, Candlemass, etc., lends some keys. What do you call such a thing? Who cares? You call yourself lucky it exists. They called the record Vision Beyond Horizon. Can’t wait to find out what they call the next one.

8. Elder, Omens

elder omens

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed April 27.

Omens marked a new beginning for Elder as the band pushed deeper into the realm of progressive rock and beyond their weightier beginnings. The arrival of Georg Edert (also Gaffa Ghandi) on drums in place of Matt Couto shifted the band’s dynamic in a number of ways, providing not a swinging anchor for the rhythm section necessarily, but another avenue of prog fluidity. Bassist Jack Donovan brought a steady presence in the low end as guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo and guitarist/keyboardist Mike Risberg embarked on new melodic explorations while staying loyal to the band’s established penchant for sweeping changes. Omens may live up to its name as a sign of things to come, but either way, it was a strong display of the band’s will to pursue new ideas and methods.

7. Forming the Void, Reverie

forming the void reverie

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 15.

First words that come to mind here: “eminently listenable.” With seven tracks and 36 minutes, Reverie may not have taken up much of your afternoon… once. But by the time you gave it its proper respect and listened through three times in a row, the situation was somewhat different. The Lafayette, Louisiana, four-piece gracefully brought together structured songwriting with proggier leanings and were able to bring together rampaging hooks like “Trace the Omen” and “Manifest,” casting a sense of sonic hugeness without forgetting to add either melody or personality along with that. The band — who here welcomed bassist Thorn Letulle alongside guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa and drummer Thomas Colley — have worked quickly and evolved with a sense of urgency. Is Reverie the goal or another step on that path?

6. Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

Released by Translation Loss Records. Reviewed Nov. 18.

Vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz (interview here), guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell comprise Grayceon, and with their fifth record, the band looks around thematically at environmental devastation through the lens of record-breaking California wildfires from their vantage point in the Bay Area. Even as the world shifted priorities (at least most of it did) to yet another global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, genre-melting-pot songs like “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones,” and “This Bed” reminded of the horrors humanity has wrought on its battered home, and still managed to find hope and serenity in “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a closing duo that shifted to a more personal discussion of family and one’s hope for a better future for and by the next generation. 2020 had plenty of horror. At least we got a new Grayceon record out of it.

5. Brant Bjork, Brant Bjork

brant bjork brant bjork

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 28.

When Sho’Nuff asked Bruce Leroy “who’s the master?,” dude should’ve said Brant Bjork. It would’ve been a confusing end to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, but ultimately more accurate, as Brant Bjork‘s homegrown kung fu was unfuckwithable as ever on the album that shares his name. After two decades of solo releases in one form or another, Bjork is not just a pivotal figurehead for desert rock, he’s a defining presence, as well as one of its most treasured practitioners. Brant Bjork, the album, brought initial waves of funk in “Jungle in the Sound,” explored weedy worship in “Mary (You’re Such a Lady)” and toyed with religious dogma in offsetting that with “Jesus Was a Bluesman” while still tossing primo hooks in “Duke of Dynamite” and “Shitkickin’ Now” ahead of the more open “Stardust and Diamond Eyes” and the acoustic closer “Been So Long.” With Bjork recording all the instruments himself, a due feeling of intimacy resulted, and yet he still found a way to make it rock. How could it be otherwise?

4. Enslaved, Utgard

enslaved utgard

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Sept. 29.

Why do I feel the immediate need to defend this pick? I’m not sure. Norway’s Enslaved are an institution, not just of black metal, but of bringing an ideology of creative growth to that style that often willfully resists it. They are iconoclastic even unto their own work. Utgard was released as the band stood on the precipice of 30 years together and yet it stood as their most forward-looking offering yet, as co-founders Grutle Kjellson (bass/vocals) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar/sometimes vocals), as well as longtime lead guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal backed up the change from 2017’s E (review here) that brought in new keyboardist/vocalist Hakon Vinje with the incorporation of drummer Iver Sandøy, who doubles as a vocalist (and triples as a producer). The “new blood” made all the difference on Utgard, allowing Enslaved to piece together new ranges of melody in their work and offset instrumental shifts into and out of krautrock-derived progressions. Simply the work of a band outdoing itself from a band who does so at nearly every opportunity.

3a. Colour Haze, We Are

colour haze we are

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten and Ripple Music. Reviewed Dec. 3, 2019.

Every year I allow myself one addendum pick, and this is it. We Are was on last year’s list because it was digitally released, but the vinyl came out this year and it received its North American release this year as well, so it seemed only right to acknowledge that. So here it is in its proper place.

3. All Them Witches, Nothing as the Ideal

All-Them-Witches-Nothing-as-the-Ideal

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 3.

This is a band controlling their own narrative. Instead of Nothing as the Ideal being ‘the one they made as a three-piece,’ the Nashville outfit decided to make it ‘the one they recorded at Abbey Road.’ Were they thinking of it on those terms? Yeah, likely not, but it goes to demonstrate all the same just how much of themselves All Them Witches put into what they do musically, since not only are they continuing to refine and define and undefine their approach, but they’re setting the terms on which they do it. Each of their records has been a response to the one prior, but that conversation has never been so direct as to make them predictable. So what are they chasing? Apparently nothing. I’m not entirely sure I buy that as a complete answer, but I am sure I love these songs and the experiments with tape loops and other sounds that fill these spaces. Whatever they do next — or even if nothing — their run has been incredible and exciting and one only hopes their influence continues to spread over the next however many years.

2. Elephant Tree, Habits

elephant tree habits

Released by Deathwish Inc.. Reviewed April 13.

There was a high standard set by Elephant Tree‘s 2016 self-titled debut (review here), but their second LP, Habits, surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. With vocals centered around harmonies from guitarist Jack Townley and bassist Peter Holland, the former trio completed by drummer Sam Hart brought in guitarist/keyboardist John Slattery (also sometimes vocals), and the resultant breadth gave the material on Habits spaciousness beyond even what the first album promised. Drifting, rolling, unflinchingly melodic and somehow present even in its own escapism, Habits was not just an early highlight for a rough 2020, but a comforting presence throughout, and the further one dug into tracks like “Sails,” “Exit the Soul,” “Faceless,” “Wasted” and the acoustic “The Fall Chorus,” the more there was to find — let alone “Bird,” which I’ll happily put against anything else one might propose for song of the year. As their former UK label crumbled, Habits emerged unscathed and Elephant Tree‘s future continues to shine with ever more hope for things to come. Being able to say that about anything feels like a relief.

2020 Album of the Year

1. Lowrider, Refractions

Lowrider Refractions

Released by Blues Funeral Recordings. Reviewed Jan. 24.

Twenty years ago, Sweden’s Lowrider put out what would become a heavy rock landmark in their 2000 debut, Ode to Io (reissue review here). A follow-up years in the making even after the band got back together to play Desertfest in London (review here) and Berlin in 2013, Refractions first saw limited release in 2019 as part of Blues Funeral‘s PostWax series (discussed here), but its proper arrival was in early 2020, and there was really no looking back after that. It wasn’t just the novelty of a new Lowrider album that made Refractions such a joy, but the manner in which the band went about its work. There was no pretending that 20 years didn’t happen. There was no attempt to recapture the bottled lightning that was the first record, and Lowrider did not sound like a band “making a comeback” rife with expectations and fan-service. Refractions acknowledged the legacy of Ode to Io, sure enough, but as a step toward adding to it in meaningful and engaging ways. The songs — “Red River,” “Ode to Ganymede,” “Sernanders Krog,” “Ol’ Mule Pepe,” “Sun Devil/M87” and the 11-minute finale “Pipe Rider” — were fashioned without pretense and came across as the organic output of a band with nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. They made it their own. In a wretched year, Lowrider shined.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020: Honorable Mention

Yeah, okay. There are a lot of these, so buckle in. Last year I just threw out a list of bands. This year I’m a little more organized, so here are bands and records alphabetically.

Across Tundras, LOESS ~ LÖSS
Across Tundras, The Last Days of a Silver Rush
Alain Johannes, Hum
Arboretum, Let it All In
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Stygian Bough Vol. 1
Black Helium, The Wholly Other
Boris, No
Brimstone Coven, The Woes of a Mortal Earth
CB3, Aeons
Celestial Season, The Secret Teachings
Crippled Black Phoenix, Ellengæst
Cruthu, Athrú Crutha
Domo, Domonautas Vol. 2
DOOL, Summerland
Dopelord, Sign of the Devil
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Elder Druid, Golgotha
Ellis Munk Ensemble, San Diego Sessions
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, May Our Chambers Be Full
EMBR, 1823
Familiars, All in Good Time
Forlesen, Hierophant Violent
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines
Hum, Inlet
Human Impact, Human Impact
Humulus, The Deep
Jupiterian, Protosapien
Kariti, Covered Mirrors
Khan, Monsoons
Kingnomad, Sagan Om Ryden
King Witch, Body of Light
Kryptograf, Kryptograf
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Lord Buffalo, Tohu Wa Bohu
Lord Loud, Timid Beast
Lotus Thief, Oresteia
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Motorpsycho, The All is One
Mountain Tamer, Psychosis Ritual
Mr. Bison, Seaward
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Mugstar, GRAFT
Murcielago, Casualties
Oranssi Pazuzu, Mestarin Kynsi
Paradise Lost, Obsidian
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
The Pilgrim, …From the Earth to the Sky and Back
Pretty Lightning, Jangle Bowls
Psychlona, Venus Skytrip
Puta Volcano, AMMA
Ritual King, Ritual King
River Cult, Chilling Effect
Rrrags, High Protein
Shores of Null, Beyond the Shores (On Death and Dying)
Sigiriya, Maiden – Mother – Crone
Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
16, Dream Squasher
Slomosa, Slomosa
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
Steve Von Till, No Wilderness Deep Enough
Stone Machine Electric, The Inexplicable Vibrations of Frequencies Within the Cosmic Netherworld
Sumac, May You Be Held
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
Temple of Void, The World That Was
The Kings of Frog Island, VI
Tia Carrera, Tried and True
Turtle Skull, Monoliths
Uffe Lorenzen, Magisk Realisme
Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Vessel of Light, Last Ride
Vestal Claret, Vestal Claret
Vinnum Sabbathi, Of Dimensions and Theories
Wight, Spank the World
Wino, Forever Gone
Yatra, All is Lost
Yuri Gagarin, The Outskirts of Reality

By no means is that list exhaustive. And to look at stuff like Psychlona, Oranssi Pazuzu, Wight, Wino, Puta Volcano, Kingnomad, Ellis Munk Ensemble, Paradise Lost, Alain Johannes, Arbouretum, Uffe Lorenzen, Tia Carrera — on and on and on — I can definitely see where arguments are to be made for records that should’ve been in the list proper. I can only go with what feels right to me at the time.

Together with the top 50, this makes over 110 albums in the best of 2020. If you find yourself needing something to hang your hat on, be glad you’re alive to witness this much excellent music coming out.

Debut Album of the Year

Molassess, Through the Hollow

Molassess Through the Hollow

Other notable debuts (alphabetically):

Atramentus, Stygian
Bethmoora, Thresholds
BleakHeart, Dream Griever
Crystal Spiders, Molt
Dirt Woman, The Glass Cliff
Dwaal, Gospel of the Vile
Electric Feat, Electric Feat
Familiars, All in Good Time
Galactic Cross, Galactic Cross
Human Impact, Human Impact
Jointhugger, I Am No One
Light Pillars, Light Pillars
Love Gang, Dead Man’s Game
Malsten, The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill
Might, Might
Mindcrawler, Lost Orbiter
Mrs. Piss, Self-Surgery
Parahelio, Surge Evelia Surge
Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation
Ritual King, Ritual King
SEA, Impermanence
Slomosa, Slomosa
Soldati, Doom Nacional
Somnus Throne, Somnus Throne
SpellBook, Magick & Mischief
Spirit Mother, Cadets
Temple of the Fuzz Witch, Red Tide
The Crooked Whispers, Satanic Melodies
White Dog, White Dog

Notes: I sparred with myself every step of the way here. The last couple years I’ve tried to give the top-debut spot to not just a new band, but a new presence. Green Lung, King Buffalo, etc. Molassess, with members from The Devil’s Blood, Death Alley and Astrosoniq, isn’t exactly that. So what do I do? Do I go with something newer like Polymoon, Dirt Woman, BleakHeart, SEA, White Dog or The Crooked Whispers, or something with more established players like Molassess, Soldati, or even Light Pillars?

In the end, what made the difference was not just how brilliant the songs on Molassess’ Through the Hollow, but how honestly the band confronted the legacy they were up against. The songs had a familiar haunting presence, but they were also moving ahead to somewhere new. It was that blend of old and new ideas, and the resonant feeling of emotional catharsis — as well as the sheer immersion that took place while listening — that ultimately made the decision. Turns out I just couldn’t escape it.

And why not a list? Because this feels woefully inadequate as it is. I reviewed over 250 records this year one way or another — and that’s a conservative estimate — but a lot gets lost in the shuffle and somehow it just seemed wrong this time around to call something the 13th best first record of the year. I wanted to highlight the special achievement that was the Molassess album, but really, all of these records kicked my ass one way or the other.

Short Release of the Year 2020

King Buffalo, Dead Star

King Buffalo Dead Star

Other notable EPs, Splits, Demos, etc.:

Big Scenic Nowhere, Lavender Blues
Coma Wall, Ursa Minor
Conan/Deadsmoke, Doom Sessions Vol. 1
Fu Manchu, Fu30 Pt. 1
Grandpa Jack, Trash Can Boogie
Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Masamune/Muramasa (split)
Oginalii, Pendulum
Kings Destroy, Floods
Lament Cityscape, The Old Wet
Limousine Beach, Stealin’ Wine +2
Merlock, That Which Speaks
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Mos Generator/Di’Aul, Split
Pimmit Hills, Heathens & Prophets
Rito Verdugo, Post-Primatus
Rocky Mtn Roller, Rocky Mtn Roller
Spaceslug, Leftovers
10,000 Years, 10,000 Years
The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission
Thunderbird Divine, The Hand of Man
Witchcraft, Black Metal

Notes: If you were wondering why King Buffalo’s Dead Star (review here) wasn’t on the big list, this is why. It was pitched to me as an EP and that’s how I’m classifying it. I’m taking the out. Is it an EP? Not really, but neither is it a full-length album, given its experimental nature and focus around its extended two-part title-track. Whatever it was, it was the best that-thing, and this is the category where such things go.

Again, tough choices after King Buffalo. Thunderbird Divine’s EP was wonderfully funk-blasted and woefully short (new album, please). The newly-issued Spaceslug EP branches out their sound in fascinating ways as a result of the lockdown. Witchcraft’s acoustic EP, Coma Wall’s EP and Big Scenic Nowhere’s EP all signaled good things to come, and Howling Giant’s split with Sergeant Thunderhoof was a highlight of the most recent Quarterly Review. There really isn’t a bummer on the list there, from the bitter psych of Oginalii to the industrial metal of Lament Cityscape, the unadulterated riffery of Merlock to the live-captured rawness of Monte Luna.

So again, why no list? Same answer. I want to highlight the progression King Buffalo made in their sound and leave room open elsewhere for things I missed. Please let me know what in the comments. Cordially.

Live Album of the Year 2020

Yawning Man, Live at Giant Rock

yawning man live at giant rock

Other notable live releases:

Ahab, Live Prey
Amenra, Mass VI Live
Arcadian Child, From Far, for the Wild (Live in Linz)
Author and Punisher, Live 2020 B.C.
Cherry Choke, Raising Salzburg Rockhouse
Dead Meadow, Live at Roadburn 2011
Dirty Streets, Rough and Tumble
Electric Moon, Live at Freak Valley Festival 2019
Kadavar, Studio Live Session Vol. 1
King Buffalo, Live at Freak Valley
Monte Luna, Mind Control Broadcast
Orange Goblin, Rough & Ready: Live and Loud
Øresund Space Collective, Sonic Rock Solstice 2019
Pelican, Live at the Grog Shop
SEA, Live at ONCE
Sumac, St Vitus 09/07/2018
Sun Blood Stories, (a)Live and Alone at Visual Arts Collective
Temple Fang, Live at Merleyn
YOB, Pickathon 2019 – Live From the Galaxy Barn

Notes: In this wretched year (mostly) void of live music, marked by canceled tours and festivals, the live album arguably played a more central role than it ever has, whether it was a band trying to keep momentum up following or leading into a studio release, taking advantage of the emergence of the Bandcamp Friday phenomenon or just trying to maintain some connection to their fans and the process of taking a stage. Or even playing in a room together. Or not a room. Anything. What was once a tossoff, maybe an afterthought companion piece became an essential worker of the listening experience.

You might accuse desert rock progenitors Yawning Man of playing to their base with Live at Giant Rock (featured here), and if so, fine. At no point in the last 50 years has that base more needed playing-to. And in the absence of shows, being able to hear (and watch, in the case of the accompanying video) Yawning Man go out to the landscape that spawned them and engage with their music was a beautiful moment of reconciliation. An exhale for the converted that didn’t fill one with empty promises of better tomorrows or tours to come, but served to remind what’s so worth preserving about the spirit of live music in the first place. The fact that anything can happen. A replaced note here, a tuning change there — these things can make not just an evening, but memories that go beyond shows, tours, to touch our lives.

There were a ton of live records this year. Some were benefits for worthy causes between saving venues, Black Lives Matter, voting rights organizations, and so on. And whether these were new performances from captured livestreams (Monte Luna, Kadavar) or older gigs that had been sitting around waiting for release at some point (Sumac, Dead Meadow), this, very much, was that point, and these live offerings kept burning a fire that felt at times very much in danger of being extinguished.

Looking Ahead to 2021

A list of bands. Some confirmed releases, some not. Here goes:

Dread Sovereign, Sasquatch, Year of Taurus, Apostle of Solitude, Weedpecker, Borracho, Love Gang, Jointhugger, Demon Head, Iron Man, Greenleaf, Samsara Blues Experiment, The Mammathus, Evert Snyman, Wo Fat, Conclave, Here Lies Man, Kabbalah, Komatsu, Hour of 13, Wedge, Amenra, La Chinga, Spidergawd, Wolves in the Throne Room, Vokonis, Freedom Hawk, Masters of Reality, ZOM, Eyehategod, Sanhedrin, Green Lung, The Mountain King, Albatross Overdrive, Elder, King Buffalo, Sunnata, Howling Giant, SAVER, Conan, Slomatics, Ruff Majik, Kind, Mos Generator, Yawning Sons, Lantlôs, Brant Bjork, Spiral Grave, Crystal Spiders, Lightning Born, Samavayo, Wovenhand, Merlock, Comet Control, The Age of Truth, Eight Bells, BlackWater Holylight, DVNE, Monte Luna.

Thank You

You’ve read enough, so I will do my best to keep this mercifully short. Thank you so much for reading — whether you still are or not — and thank you for being a part of the ongoing project that is The Obelisk. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have such incredible support throughout not just this year, but all the years of the site’s existence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you most of all to The Patient Mrs. for her indulgence in letting me get this done. I’m am amazed forever.

More to come.

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