Hour of 13 to Release Black Magick Rites on Shadow Kingdom

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 1st, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Last September, Hour of 13 founding multi-instrumentalist and spearhead Chad Davis let slip the info that the band’s fourth record would be released through Shadow Kingdom Records and titled Black Magick Rites. The new song “His Majesty of the Wood” also went up at that point. That announcement apparently was preface to a 24-hour limited digital release of the album on Nov. 1 — shame on me for missing it — and it seems likely that it’ll be Sept. 2021 before the album sees broader release, as Davis said, through Shadow Kingdom. Or maybe they’ll wait for Halloween. Why the hell not? It’s been nine years since 2012’s 333 (discussed here). You mean to tell me they’re gonna rush it now?

In addition to the LP sneak-peak, Davis also released the Deathly Nights EP under the Hour of 13 moniker last Fall. You can stream that as well as “His Majesty of the Wood” below, following this info from the PR wire:

hour of 13

HOUR OF 13 sign with SHADOW KINGDOM for long-awaited new album

Shadow Kingdom Records announces the signing of the legendary Hour of 13 for the release of their long-awaited fourth album, Black Magick Rites, on CD, vinyl LP, and cassette tape formats.

By now, Hour of 13 should require little introduction. For the better part of two decades, mainman Chad Davis has pursued a unique and intensely personal iteration of traditional doom metal. Along the way and over the course of three albums and numerous EPs, Hour of 13 have built a formidable discography that’s amassed a fanatic following awaiting each spooky ‘n’ somber offering Davis and his rotating cast of cohorts creates. And while he’s released records for a variety of labels over the years, in between a couple breakups, Davis brings Hour of 13 back to Shadow Kingdom, who released the band’s self-titled debut album in 2007 long before the hype started.

Hour of 13’s first full-length offering in over eight years, Black Magick Rites was available digitally on November 1st, 2020 for only 24 hours. Just as uniquely, Black Magick Rites also marks the first Hour of 13 album where he handles not only all instruments, but also all vocals. Indeed, Davis’ vocals evoke an ancient nostalgia, of doom metal before it was “doom metal” – of the days when bands like Black Sabbath, Pagan Altar, and Witchfinder General simply followed their respective muses wherever it took them. And for Davis, Black Magick Rites sees him taking his Hour of 13 muse toward a rougher, more rock ‘n’ roll expression and yet tinged with an emotive melancholy that resonates deeply within the soul. No, no flavor-of-the-week “occult rock” cliches here, for Davis still prizes blue-collared authenticity in his doom, but he likewise never lets it hamper his immediately recognizable songwriting, which here ever so subtly inches closer to classic deathrock territory (think the likes of early Christian Death and Voodoo Church). Naturally, with a title like Black Magick Rites, an indulgence in occultism is expected, and you can literally feel the fingers of the black beyond reaching out to you across every electric minute of this 44-minute monolith.

Despite those isolated breakups, Hour of 13 continue to get better with age. Perfectly titled as any record in their enviable discography, Black Magick Rites is the sweet sound of salvation…through damnation.

Release date, cover art, tracklisting, and preorder info to be announced shortly. For more info, consult the links below.

https://hourofthirteen.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ShadowKingdomRecords/
http://www.shadowkingdomrecords.com/

Hour of 13, “His Majesty of the Wood”

Hour of 13, Deathly Nights (2020)

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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

https://www.facebook.com/bluesfuneral/
https://www.instagram.com/blues.funeral/
https://bluesfuneralrecordings.bandcamp.com/
bluesfuneral.com

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Very Paranoia Premiere “High Ledge” Video; Self-Titled LP out Feb. 15

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 25th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

very paranoia

Very Paranoia will release their self-titled debut full-length through Who Can You Trust? Records on Feb. 15, and in the spirit of the no-bullshit brand of classic punk rock they play, I’ll keep the story straightforward. There was a band. They made an album. There’s a video. Preorders start Feb. 5 for standard and screened-sleeve versions.

That about sums up the situation when it comes to Very Paranoia‘s Very Paranoia, though perhaps it doesn’t do justice to the 26-minute long-player’s 12 component tracks and the restlessness they convey, at once raw and familiar in their mindset. Even listening to the mp3 of opener “Bricks,” I can close my eyes and see the vinyl spinning on the turntable. It’s that kind of record, classic in spirit, punk rock unafraid to have guitar solos, straight-ahead catchy hooks and sans-frills tonality that’s deceptively specific in its intent. Verses, choruses, electricity and not one single track over three minutes long. If you can’t vibe to that, well, screw it. Go listen to something else. What am I, your concierge?

The band offered up their debut 7″ (review here) in 2018, and cuts like “High Ledge” — withVery Paranoia Very Paranoia the video premiering below — and “Brain Stain” and the boogie-punk “You’ll Be Sorry” follow suit in their willful primitivism, roots-punk building on a Blue Cheer-noisy foundation as “Cracked Picture Frame” betray a classic-heavy backdrop on which punker disaffection has been overlaid. You can dig it. Fuzzy and catchy, the Velvet Underground cover “Foggy Notion” precedes the shuffler “Sleep Alone” and before you know it, you’re through “Blasted” and “Choked and Freezin'” and into closer “Something Will Go Wrong,” which, to put it simply, doesn’t.

You know what Very Paranoia sounds like? It sounds like the abandonment of pretense. Yeah, there’s pedigree here, but whatever. It sounds like these guys got together and decided screw it all, it was time to get as close to back to basics as possible. They’re not the first to make that decision — fucking nobody’s the first to do anything — but the results are inarguably effective throughout these songs, and though they’ve apparently sat on the shelf for the better part of a year, they’re no dustier than is intended. I’ll say again: you can dig it. Believe in yourself. Believe in rock and roll.

At the end of the day, all I can do is put this here and go on and on about the righteousness of the cause. Whether or not you actually take the two minutes — literally — to check it out is up to you. For whatever it might be worth, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

PR wire info follows below. Please enjoy:

Very Paranoia, “High Ledge” official video premiere

Very Paranoia formed in 2018 with the express intent of delivering short, sharp shocks of electrified rock and roll that simultaneously heralded both a “war on music” and offered a way forward using the scattered shards left behind on the sticky, rickety fields of battle and trapped in the structurally unsound masonry memory of those walls still standing around us.

Composed of veterans of the sonic conflicts from the Annihilation Time/Lecherous Gaze/Hot Lunch/Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound divisions, the four of them huddled together in their San Francisco rehearsal room where they quickly hammered out an arsenal of crude missives designed to fire as roaring missiles into the heart of 2019.

After whetting their attack, Very Paranoia removed from their squalid hovel and harangued an unsuspecting, but susceptible public with 25-minute blasts set off around their local strongholds. The band then traveled nearly 1000 miles to the Sonoran Desert where they set up camp at Midtown Island Studio in Tucson, Arizona. The Island’s sole occupant and aural wizard Matt Rendon of the Resonars captured 15 tracks over three 10-hour stretches. Twelve of these tracks were then transmitted to Tim Green at Louder Studios in the Valley of Grass, California, for mastering in early 2020 before being shipped abroad and stamped into this rasping document bearing the inscription of “WHO-42.”

Having weathered the remainder of that seemingly inexorable year, with the dawn of 2021 comes the debut album by Very Paranoia on Who Can You Trust? Records.

TRACK LISTING:
A1 – Bricks
A2 – High Ledge
A3 – Brain Stain
A4 – Pack It In
A5 – You’ll Be Sorry
A6 – Nobody Home

B1 – Cracked Picture Frame
B2 – Foggy Notion
B3 – Sleep Alone
B4 – Blasted
B5 – Choked And Freezin’
B6 – Something Will Go Wrong

PERSONNEL:
Cory Linstrum – vocals
Rob Alper – guitar, backing vocals
Chris Grande – bass
Jefferson Marshall – drums

All songs by VP except FOGGY NOTION by VU.

The LP is released in an edition of 300 copies on black vinyl.
An alternate cover version with screen printed sleeve is available in an edition of 30 copies.
Both include a copy of “A VERY MANIFESTO”, a booklet containing lyrics, photos, flyers, and stories, as a companion piece to the album.

Very Paranoia on Thee Facebooks

Very Paranoia on Instagram

Very Paranoia on Bandcamp

Who Can You Trust? Records on Thee Facebooks

Who Can You Trust? Records website

Who Can You Trust? Records on Bandcamp

Who Can You Trust? Records BigCartel store

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Album Review: Terry Gross, Soft Opening

Posted in Reviews on January 19th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

terry gross soft opening

Terry Gross, the person, is the host of the interview show Fresh Air on National Public Radio. It’s produced at WHYY in Philadelphia and syndicated through the NPR network of stations to over 600 outlets. It’s a very popular show, and Gross has a very particular way of exhaling while saying its title.

Terry Gross, the band, hail from San Francisco (local station KQED) and are a three-piece featuring guitarist/vocalist Phil Manley (also Trans Am), bassist/vocalist Donny Newenhouse and drummer Phil Becker, who jam. Oh my goodness how they jam. And indeed, they do bring a breath of fresh air to the form of doing so. The narrative — blessings and peace upon it — is that since all three are part owners of El Studio, which is Spanish for… the studio, the band started as a way for them to test out equipment and have fun presumably during downtime when no one else was using the space. So coy. But my, they do jam. A song tracked in late 2016 surfaced the next year and that was it until a series of lockdown jams appeared across months in 2020, reportedly mined from years’ worth of recordings.

These ultimately make a procession leading toward Terry Gross‘ Thrill Jockey-issued debut full-length, Soft Opening. At a manageable 38 minutes, the LP brings together three songs that work off impulses from heavy psychedelic expanse à la Earthless to sunnier West Coast skate vibes and an underlying touch of noise rock gone melodic that only adds to the energy and chemistry to rampantly on display. Two extended pieces, opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Space Voyage Mission” (19:21) and “Worm Gear” (13:32) make up the bulk of the outing, and side B rounds out with the shorter “Specificity (Or What Have You)” (5:55), which condenses the pairing of instrumentalist sprawl and structured verses that the first two tracks make.

“Space Voyage Mission” launches duly cosmic, with Becker working subtle jazz on the snare while Manley trips out and Newenhouse channels the motorik across the first five-plus minutes. There’s a trip-out on effects while the drums still move behind, but the whole thing feels more consumed as they move toward the seven-minute mark. Then Becker stops the drums and Manley introduces ‘the Riff.’ Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum dum dum. Newenhouse teases bass entry twice before actually coming in with the drums, and the band launch the first harmonized verse like surf-grunge, but that riff is pure West Coast noise, even if much-transposed onto what Terry Gross want it to be. A guitar solo stretches out over what’s quickly become the central rhythm, and they give that groove its due for the next few minutes until the next comedown signals a change to come.

Once more, it’s an excursion into effects driving the gradual-then-sudden change, and you can’t quite hear the pedal click at 11:42, but it’s there as the guitar thickens and surges forward with drums for propulsion behind it. A quick few lines of vocals from Manley and Newenhouse and then Terry Gross are off into improvised-sounding space-psych revelry, eschewing prog-tinged indulgences while remaining exploratory in vibe and hypnotic in spirit, looping rhythm and lead stretches as they weave into, out of and back into a fade before capping with just the lead, looped, on a long fade. Side A, accomplished.

terry gross

On the most basic level, “Worm Gear” works similarly. There’s a long instrumental opening that gives way to standout riffage and righteous vocals, then much soloing and feeling-of-way-through the finish. But the structure is different, the beginning stretch longer, the ending stretch shorter, and the mood is different as well, with fiercer distortion and play on tempo evoking doom without ever really tipping over into it beyond a basic sense of lumber. Less devotedly space rock than “Space Voyage Mission,” if one thinks of a worm digging in dirt, then the earthbound, grittier nature of “Worm Gear” should make sense. As with the opener, roots in punk and noise are signaled through the underlying groove, but Terry Gross have changed the central ideology of these things and reshaped them into what they want them to be.

The slowdown — blessings and peace upon it — follows a change first signaled by Newenhouse in drawing out the bassline. They get loud, then crash out and between 9:15 and 9:20 move into a purely Sabbathian riff that’s not meant to be anything more than that, but of course is. Vocal echo adds to the largesse before the guitar takes off on a solo with the bass mirroring its melody and the drums holding down the drawn-out flow, and by the time they’re through that — the vocals there, then gone — the willfully filth-coated distortion is locked in and the overarching nod is brought to full, crashing fruition like a dust storm in your brain that suddenly disappears.

That leaves just the sub-six-minute “Specificity (Or What Have You)” to begin with a dogwhistle of intent in the drum tension moving behind the initially shimmering guitar that first subsides as the winding bassline comes into focus, then returns in thicker-toned declaration. They’re not two minutes in before Manley and Newenhouse are together on vocals in what’s inarguably the most straightforward verse/hook on Soft Opening, turning to cosmic grunge via effects and the consistent shove of Becker‘s drum progression. Just when you think they’re going to go far out for the remainder, the voices return and a chorus of sorts emerges, and that’s carried into a finish in a way that’s plotted but still feels organic.

Well, the gear works.

So does the band.

Soft Opening — as opposed to a “grand opening” — functions with the chemistry between ManleyNewenhouse and Becker at its core. These three are obviously not strangers to each other and have clearly honed their instrumental conversation to a point where one element plays off the others — be it the guitar, bass or drums — in such a way as to bolster all three. Entirely possible that Soft Opening is a one-off and it’s however many years before Terry Gross do another record, if they ever do, or it might be three months before the next round of sung-over jams is brought to bear. Either way, the work they’ve done in these three tracks refreshes familiar turns with a sense of personality and finds its niche in the spaces between genre even as it pulls from different aspects thereof.

Terry Gross, Soft Opening (2021)

Terry Gross on Thee Facebooks

Terry Gross on Bandcamp

Thrill Jockey Records website

Thrill Jockey Records on Thee Facebooks

Thrill Jockey Records on Instagram

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The Obelisk Presents: THE BEST OF 2020

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

london-news-etching-1854-newcastle-upon-tyne

[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.

ukmedsnorx.com/zopiclone
ukmedsnorx.com/zolpidem

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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Video Interview: Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon on MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES and More

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on December 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

grayceon

This is a pretty honest conversation. Grayceon‘s fifth full-length, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES (review here), comes out Dec. 18 through Translation Loss, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying it’s one of my favorite records of the year. I keep going back to it. Like yesterday, for no reason whatsoever. I just wanted to hear it. That might sound strange, but that doesn’t happen to me with everything once I’ve reviewed it, and it’s not the first time it’s happened with Grayceon‘s work.

We spoke about the record, of course, and about how it engages outward and inward themes of despair and hope throughout — meeting environmental crisis in early cuts “Diablo Wind,” “The Lucky Ones” and “This Bed” with the more personal, familial turn of “And Shine On” and “Rock Steady,” a kind of loving-is-all-you-can-do-so-go-ahead-and-love-and-hope-for-the-best-because-we’re-screwed message emerging from the two sides that brooks little argument.

But in addition to this, we also talk about family, about taking walks with our kids through the neighborhood during quarantine, about California’s continual record-setting wildfires, the chicken meatloaf I had in the oven while we were speaking, what cellist other than Yo-Yo Ma she might recommend for my son, the fact that she, guitarist Max Doyle and drummer Zack Farwell have stopped playing together at all, rehearsing, because one of them works at a hospital and doesn’t want to risk spreading infection, and so on.

It’s my favorite kind of interview when you feel not only like you get insight on someone’s work, but also what makes them the person they are doing that work in the first place. I hope you get some of that from this as well. Thanks for reading and thanks for watching if you do.

Enjoy:

Video Interview with Jackie Perez Gratz, Dec. 5, 2020

Grayceon‘s MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES is out Dec. 18 through Translation Loss Records and available for preorder here and here.

Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES (2020)

Grayceon on Thee Facebooks

Grayceon on Bandcamp

Translation Loss Records webstore

Translation Loss Records on Thee Facebooks

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Review & Track Premiere: Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 18th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

grayceon mothers weavers vultures

[Click play above to stream ‘This Bed’ from Grayceon’s MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES. Album is out Dec. 18 on Translation Loss Records and available for preorder here and here.]

Jackie Perez Gratz on “This Bed”:

“‘This Bed’ is a bleak observation about humanity’s betrayal to Mother Nature, told in a first-person narrative that insinuates we have all been unfaithful in the relationship.”

Grayceon‘s all-caps-styled MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES follows two years behind the San Francisco three-piece’s prior outing for Translation Loss, IV (review here). It’s not the first time the band have had a relatively quick turnaround — their self-titled debut and second LP, This Grand Show, arrived in 2007 and 2008, respectively — but it’s noteworthy because the break between their 2011 third full-length, All We Destroy (review here; discussed here), and IV‘s arrival in 2018 was so much longer. Inspiration strikes? If so, it’s a somewhat tragic inspiration, and as the dried pupa of the Kevin Earl Taylor cover art alludes, Grayceon are working on a dedicated theme with MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES.

Beginning with “Diablo Wind” and the fear born of watching wildfires rage in California for what was then a record season, the album moves through the all-we-have-is-this-planet-and-each-other entreaty “The Lucky Ones,” the reminder of humans being universally complicit in climate change in “This Bed” (“we have made” are the next words), and ends not with further harsh judgment, which would certainly be well enough earned, but love. “And Shine On” finds vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz making a hook of the line “Don’t let them break you down,” likewise addressing the listener as much perhaps as her own progeny, and “Rock Steady” follows suit with love and encouragement, even as its title line emerges in screams from the song’s gentler first half.

The nuanced perspective of Grayceon — Gratz (formerly Amber Asylum and Giant Squid, also known for contributions to OmNeurosis, etc.) alongside guitarist Max Doyle (ex-Walken) and drummer Zack Farwell (ex-Giant Squid) — is one that fits exceedingly well alongside their music, which boasts a similar complexity. Eschewing bass altogether, the cello brings mid-to-lower-range frequencies alongside the guitar while at the same time allowing for softer melodic passages to coincide both with lumbering, distorted doom and charge-laden thrash. As frontwoman and the one holding the cello, Gratz gets much of the credit for how Grayceon‘s songs are delivered, but the winding and creative contributions of Doyle and Farwell‘s mercurial, deeply engrossing drumming are not to be understated. When one actually sits and listens, Grayceon is an every-member band.

Working with Jack Shirley at Oakland’s The Atomic Garden for recording, mixing and mastering, Grayceon begin MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES with a telling intro of Americana-styled cello, drawling notes pulling in a spirit of wistfulness for something that may or may not have ever existed, and it’s when the guitar strum enters ahead of the drums that the tension begins to mount as they build toward the first shove. Melody and rhythmic intricacy are brought together in bold fashion that has very much become the band’s wheelhouse over their decade-plus together, a sound that is as much their own as it is singularly identifiable in its patient urgency. Gratz‘s vocals often come in layers, and the hints of bite as “Diablo Wind” pushes through its midsection and the slowdown that follows bring foreshadow of what’s to unfold in the subsequent pairing of “The Lucky Ones” and the album’s centerpiece, “This Bed.”

grayceon

Together, the two songs encompass 24 of the total 42-minute runtime — so more than half — and it is in them that MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES makes its thematic case and unfolds the greater part of the sonic vision that accords. It’s in “The Lucky Ones” (12:55) that the name of the album appears, broken up in the lines, “We are all mothers of this place we call home/We are all weavers of this fabric we shroud ourselves in/We are all vultures feeding on what’s left for dead,” and that serves as well as the central lyrical indictment, the wordplay of “worship the ground you walk on” and repetitions of “open your eyes” that follow bringing the environmentalist post home. This occurs as Grayceon careens between melodic sprawl and pointed surges, the first five minutes of the track playing out like a genre meatgrinder ahead of the slam on the breaks that brings Gratz‘s already-noted screams.

Gallop and roll play back and forth throughout the second half of “The Lucky Ones,” the chorus returning amid what’s far too stately to be considered chaos but is headspinning nonetheless, and the song bookends with a quieter stretch to match its initial impression, capping with the “worship the ground” line again en route the immediate, full-volume nod of “This Bed” (11:54). The centerpiece of the five-song tracklisting is as close as MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES gets to sheer hopelessness, including both “you” and “we” in the making of the bed while asking “…Is it too late to say sorry?/Will tomorrow come?…” in the verse. Following a more linear progression, “This Bed” establishes its verse and chorus patterns early and then breaks to quiet as it approaches its halfway point, only to push upward again and move into a bigger finish, still resonant in melody and emotion, its cold finish flowing smoothly into the subdued guitar intro to “And Shine On.”

It’s a waltz, naturally. “And Shine On” is the shortest cut on the LP at just 3:48, and “Don’t let them break you down” is the core message, but “I’ll light the sky for you/Empower you so that you can find your truth/And shine on” and “Love hard, wild heart,” back the parent-speaking-to-child feel, the guitar, cello and drums too loud to be a lullaby, but giving something of that vibe just the same. “Rock Steady,” which like “Diablo Wind” is a little over seven minutes, complements that well, with a more gradual unfolding and softer-sung lines, less defiantly belted than “And Shine On,” but suited to the purpose of the subtle build toward the finale that takes hold following a stop at 3:56, the swaying groove that backs the throaty-screamed lyric “rock steady” being the last word as the closer fades out to the record’s end.

Though it was written for a different disaster, the fear, the judgment and the daring (not to say “audacity”) to hope and love in spite of them are nothing if not relevant — not only for the fact that the climate crisis is ongoing, but so is a massive pandemic wave. Grayceon, whose albums are consistently made to be digested over a longer term, were obviously not writing to the latter — it hadn’t happened yet — but the fact that MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES speaks so well to present experience is emblematic of the songs’ and the band’s greater individualism. They stand within the moment and outside of it by refusing to be anything other than themselves.

Grayceon, MOTHERS WEAVERS VULTURES (2020)


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Terry Gross to Release Debut LP Soft Opening Jan. 29

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 9th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

terry gross

See? This is what Thrill Jockey does. Here’s some other fucking awesome band with some other fucking really cool sounding release and then blah blah blah there’s an album and it’s gonna be awesome and here’s a song and it’s awesome and it’s just one more awesome thing and wow I guess your life is just better now because of all this awesome shit right? I mean seriously. What gives?

Do you have any idea how frustrating that is? Some of us are out here working really hard at being miserable bastards, day in and day fucking out, and then here comes a band named Terry Gross after a fucking NPR host and the song is like spacey and jammed out but still has this core of songwriting and it’s really good and makes you want to hear more and then all of a sudden you realize you’re like interested in life and stuff and maybe even a little inspired by it to not be such a shit 24 hours a day seven days a week and then things just get better because it’s all really just a matter of perspective anyway and maybe you’re just tired and you need a nap or to hydrate or maybe you just fucking have low blood sugar or something and it’s not that bad and maybe the nap works and then the song’s still good and whatever fuck you okay fine life is great alright everything’s beautiful. Fine. Fine.

PR wire:

terry gross soft opening

Acclaimed guitarist/vocalist Phil Manley (Trans Am, Life Coach) leads new Bay Area trio Terry Gross

Terry Gross’ debut full-length Soft Opening Out on Jan. 29th, 2021

Terry Gross is an engrossing trio composed of guitarist Phil Manley (Trans Am), bassist Donny Newenhouse, and drummer Phil Becker. The trio are also connected as owners and engineers at Bay Area recording spot El Studio, where they began improvising together as a way to test the boundaries and gear of the studio. Their loose, organic chemistry burgeoned into a deep camaraderie and a sound both expansive and exacting. The three experienced musicians crafted their first full-length album through the pure joy of playing together with no expectations. With the tapes rolling on their rehearsals, the band captures the exuberance of live performance and elevates those recordings through a deft use of the studio as their collective instrument. On their debut LP Soft Opening, Terry Gross channels their cosmic powers and considerable chops into a gleefully mesmerizing odyssey fit for an arena.

Soft Opening took shape over the course of 2016-2019, with Terry Gross writing and refining their songs. “Space Voyage Mission” and “Worm Gear” parallel one another as sinuous jams that pulse with adamantine fervor. Each mountainous epic churns spellbinding repetition and simplicity into dizzying gallops that take hairpin turns into sinewy riffing and elysian vocal melodies. Phil Manley’s guitar takes on a constellation of tones across “Space Voyage Mission” with drifting delays soaring over the Newenhouse and Becker’s driving rhythm section which all succumb to frothing overdrives that spin the song into entirely new pastures. The hypnotic throb of “Worm Gear” grows all the more enchanting as Newenhouse and Becker add subtle shifts to the single-chord barrage. “Specificity (Or What Have You)” contrasts these two in its more traditionally pop-oriented structure while retaining its predecessors wide-eyed energy and delves further into the album’s lighthearted-yet-earnest take on sci-fi tropes from space and time travel to the singularity.

As Terry Gross, Phil Manley, Donny Newenhouse, and Phil Becker are sonic scientists traversing the borderlands of rock. Soft Opening captures the simple joy of a no-holds-barred trio in stunning detail, transporting the listener into the splendor and freedom of rock.

1. Space Voyage Mission
2. Worm Gear
3. Specificity (Or What Have You)

Terry Gross are:
Phil Becker – Drums
Phil Manley – Guitar/Vocals
Donny Newenhouse – Bass/Vocals

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Terry Gross, Soft Opening (2021)

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