The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Singles, EPs, Splits and Demos of 2015

Posted in Features on December 29th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 20 short releases of 2015

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

What’s a short release? Anything that’s not a full-length. I’ve done this list in the past and given a small list — The Top 20 EPs, Splits, Demos and Singles, or whatever — but “Short Releases” seemed more concise, and believe it or not, that’s something I shoot for.

Essentially, what we’re taking a look at here is everything else a band might put out in a given year. No question that albums are where the greatest impact is made over the longer term, but from landmark 7″s to EPs that provide crucial experiments or serve notice of bands solidifying their sound or marking pivotal first impressions, the shorter offerings have tremendous value, and it’s worth considering them on their own merit, rather than in comparison to LPs directly.

I know for a fact that there are releases I’ve missed here. Particularly among the Bandcamp-only demos, there’s just so much out there that for any one person to keep up with all of it is even more impossible than it’s ever been before. Before you berate me immediately with, “Hey you forgot X Band!” and start throwing tomatoes at your computer or mobile device screen, please keep in mind The Obelisk is run by a single individual and there are only so many hours in the day. As always, I do the best I can.

Here we go:

foehammer foehammer

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2015

1. Foehammer, Foehammer EP
2. Mos Generator & Stubb, The Theory of Light and Matter Split
3. Sun Voyager, Lazy Daze EP
4. All Them Witches, A Sweet Release
5. Geezer & Borracho, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 1 Split
6. Fatso Jetson & Farflung, Split
7. Eggnogg & Borracho, Sludgy Erna Bastard Split 7″
8. Shroud Eater, Face the Master EP
9. Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Fortunate Some EP
10. Stars that Move, Demo Songs
11. Wight, Helicopter Mama 7″
12. Thera Roya, Unraveling EP
13. Shatner, EP
14. Cities of Mars, Cyclopean Ritual EP
15. Pyramidal & Domo, Jams from the Sun Split
16. Sandrider & Kinski, Split
17. Mount Hush, Low and Behold! EP
18. Godhunter & Amigo the Devil, The Outer Dark Split
19. Groan, Highrospliffics EP
20. Rozamov & Deathkings, Split

Honorable Mention

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Notes

It’s something of a break in routine for me to put any kind of debut in a top spot (other, of course, than on the list of debuts), but Foehammer simply would not be denied. The Virginia trio’s three-song EP release on Grimoire Records (LP on Australopithecus Records), it was a self-titled that seemed to be telling you the name of the band twice as if in a warning against forgetting it. And that warning was one to heed. Foehammer‘s first outing brought the Doom Capitol region to new heights of extremity, and while at over half-an-hour long it could’ve just as easily have been called a full-length, part of the overarching threat is what the band will bring to bear when they actually get around to their first LP.

A good number of splits included here, with Mos Generator and Stubb‘s The Theory of Light and Matter (HeviSike Records), Geezer and Borracho‘s The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 1 (launching a series for Ripple Music), Fatso Jetson and Farflung‘s joint release (on Heavy Psych Sounds) and Eggnogg and Borracho‘s Sludgy Erna Bastard (on Palaver Records) all cracking the top 10. No coincidence that Washington D.C. heavy riffers Borracho show up twice in that mix. As Pyramidal and Domo‘s blissful Jams from the Sun, Sandrider and Kinski‘s one-two, Godhunter and Amigo the Devil‘s Battleground Records collaboration and Rozamov and Deathkings‘ joint single feature between #11-20, a total of eight out of the full included 20 releases here are splits. Last year it was only five.

Whether that means the form is growing in an attempt to capture fickle social-media-age attention spans while cutting individual vinyl pressing costs, I couldn’t say — likely a combination of the two and more besides — but it’s noteworthy that a split is more than just a toss-off, between-albums castaway at this point, something for songs to later be included on rare-tracks comps. One could easily say the same of EPs as a whole. To that end, Sun Voyager‘s Lazy Daze was a brutal tease for the NY psychgaze outfit’s first album, hopefully out in 2016. And while All Them WitchesA Sweet Release was over 50 minutes long — longer, actually, than their Dying Surfer Meets His Maker LP, which was also issued this year — they considered it an EP/live collection, and that indeed proved how it worked best, immersive though its stretch remained.

Shroud Eater and Bedroom Rehab Corporation both turned in impressive outings that showed marked progression from their last time out, while Shatner‘s first batch of tracks tipped off a songwriting process well-honed and Stars that Move, Cities of Mars, Thera Roya and Mount Hush — I’d put Mount Desert in this category as well — had compelling outings that, like Foehammer at the top, showed much potential at work in formative sounds. Not to be forgotten, Wight‘s Helicopter Mama 7″ gave listeners a heads up on the funkified stylistic turn their upcoming full-length, Love is Not Only What You Know, will take even further, and UK stoner miscreants Groan proved once and for all that, along with logic and reason, a constantly changing lineup can’t hold back their good times.

Like I said — like I always say — if I left something out, let me know about it in the comments. Really let me have it. Call me a jerk. It’s cool. I can take it.

Please note: I can, in no way, take it.

Still, if I left something/someone out, I hope you’ll let me know. And please don’t forget that if you haven’t yet, you can still contribute your list of 2015 favorites to the year-end poll until Dec. 31. EPs, LPs, whatever, however many, it doesn’t matter. All entries are welcome there.

Thanks for reading.

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Thera Roya, Unraveling: That Feeling of Falling Inward

Posted in Reviews on September 1st, 2015 by JJ Koczan

thera roya unraveling

Unraveling is the second EP from Brooklyn post-sludgers Thera Roya, following a 2013 self-titled, a split with respected NJ black metallers Hercyn (review here) and a smattering of singles going back to when they were called The Badeda Ladies and played as a duo, circa 2012/2013. Tour veterans with Maryland’s Foehammer and others and regular denizens of The Meatlocker in scenic Montclair, New Jersey, and the formidable group of bands that haunt that space — DutchgutsSet and SettingThe Sun the Moon the Stars and so on — the three-piece also recorded the three-song Unvraveling there and push the line between an EP and an LP at 28 minutes but in the end benefit from the concise intensity that a shorter offering brings.

Working under the basic concept of portraying a panic attack, drummer Ryan Smith (also Mountain God) varies between lyrics and indecipherable syllabic screams, and he, guitarist Christopher Eustaquio (also Sunrot) and bassist Jonathan Cohn bring about a suitable tumult to fit that ideal, though as stormy as it is at its most raging, Unraveling is never far from its sense of atmosphere, and as the vinyl-ready structure moves between the first two seven-minute tracks “Anomie” and “Body Breaker” and into the 13-minute closing title-cut, the scope likewise broadens. Looking at it on the level of its concept, I’m not sure I’d say Thera Roya have made sense of the panic attack, but they’ve at very least begun to process what has just given way within the body. It feels significant enough to mention that after all the explosiveness and abrasion contained in these tracks, Unraveling ends quietly.

The EP arrives as a customized presentation of the cover art — almost like a greeting card from the recesses of your psyche. Inside one finds a note in challenging handwriting, various symbols and words jumbled together and a download code, the band tapping into DIY ethics without necessarily having to pay to press a CD or tape. As noted, the structure of Unraveling is suited to vinyl and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up that way sooner or later, but a digital release works for setting up a linear, front-to-back flow in a way that vinyl wouldn’t allow, however enjoyable it might be to see Miriam Carothers‘ cover art at such a scale. That flow winds up a major argument in favor of considering Unraveling as a full-length, but the stated intent is otherwise, and at under a half-hour, it’s still easy to read the release as offering a sample of where Thera Roya are at in their progression.

THERA ROYA - Unraveling - tour thera 2015

For an answer, they present the punch-you-in-the-face feedback that launches “Anomie,” a thick, grueling riff emerging in slow grind soon topped by screams, deceptively intricate building, and a pervasive rollout offset by post-hardcore-style turns — Isis at their angriest — but by the time it gets down to its final minute, the mood is more desperate than infuriated. “Body Breaker” picks up from there with a tense underlying fuzz that Smith soon joins on drums, its opening more dedicated to instilling unease than smashing away, though of course they get there as well. Around the halfway point, “Body Breaker” shifts into bigger post-metallic riffing, setting up a transition into a quiet, isolated-sounding ambient stretch that carries through the last two-minutes-plus of the song, Cohn‘s bass and Eustaquio‘s guitar taking a forward position as a softer nod takes hold, but it’s not until “Unraveling” itself that they really revive the push.

Their finishing move, “Unraveling” is a monster. It starts out full-boar, finds a middle-ground and even introduces some cleaner singing — a first on the release — before turning to slower plod. All within its first two minutes. Aside from demonstrating Thera Roya‘s ability to work in longer forms, something which I’d be very surprised if they didn’t try again at some point, it’s the richest of the three inclusions and the most atmospherically complex, setting rhythms against each other and moving into an ambient stretch that sets up a linear build to serve as the apex of the EP but not its actual ending, which after. A series of crashes at 6:30 are topped with shouts from Smith as the band move into a highlight, densely-weighted low-end groove, the bass and guitar distinguishable only in the level of force they elicit.

It’s from this foundation that the peak of “Unraveling” is launched in somewhat abbreviated flourish of melody in the guitar, Eustaquio finding room in all that onslaught for subdued, post-rock noodling. The vocals don’t dare — yet — but for this outing, the threat is enough, and before “Unraveling” falls apart at the close, Thera Roya underscore the potential for growth in their sound. Already, they’ve ranged farther than they probably knew they would when they started writing this material, but it still sounds like just the beginning of what they could accomplish stylistically, figuring out how to play off the loud/quiet trades, the dynamics between bass and guitar, where and how and what vocals can add to the atmosphere as another instrument in conveying intent. Unraveling does not suffer from a lack of ambition, but neither is that all it has to offer, and it proves an immersive listen that shows its real strength in putting the listener in the mindset where the band wants them to be. It is disturbing and engaging in kind.

Thera Roya, Unraveling (2015)

Thera Roya on Thee Facebooks

Thera Roya on Bandcamp

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