The Dials – That Was The Future (Gear Discs)

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Everyone hears the tiniest ringing bell when they hear the name The Dials. No it’s not faerie magick, it’s the fact that with a couple bands a year taking the name, everyone’s heard of a Dials. Most don’t last, but this one, named after the 7 Dials area of Brighton, has been together for 15 years. Their started out with an indie garage psych sound equally informed by a country folk twang, with some nice Hollies/CSN&Y styled harmonies and vintage keyboards. They also made the news when they were trapped in a bank vault while recording their second album, Companions Of The Rosy Hours (2009), and had to be rescued by nine firemen. Their first two are very solid, with third album, The End Of The Pier (2013) had them stretching out a bit, such as the space surf rock of “Mondo Space.” However their fourth sees them reaching a whole new level. Continue reading

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Spirit Adrift – Curse Of Conception (20 Buck Spin)

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Just last year Spirit Adrift came out blazing with a debut EP and full-length, Chained To Oblivion as Nate Garrett’s one-man doom project. In my review I said the only thing that could be improved is forming a full band and recording road-tested material. While they haven’t hit the road yet, Spirit Adrift is now officially a four-piece (Gatecreeper bandmate Chase Mason on bass, guitarist Jeff Owens, drummer Marcus Bryant), and better than ever. Growing up outside the Ozark mountains in Fayetteville, Arkansas around a mix of country and Southern rock, classic metal and sludge metal, Garrett probably never imagined he’d be fronting an epic doom band. After relocating to Phoenix, Arizona, he hooked up with the blackened death metal scene. After a shift to sobriety, perhaps some alone time in the desert mountains, he wrote some songs that dealt with both spirituality and science fiction, and Spirit Adrift was born. Continue reading

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Ufomammut – 8 (Neurot)

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There may be no shortage of sludge metal, or doom, or heavy psych, or space rock, but no one can do quite what Italy’s Ufomammut does, which is present a slightly different flavor of their cosmic doom sludge, and nail it every damn time. They may get a little silly and pretentious (8 flipped sideways is  – ∞ – man, whoa), but their concepts are fun, and set to their music and visuals, truly expansive. And in a world completely gone to shit, they’re also cathartic. Like Ecate (2015), 8 drills down on more concise song structures as opposed to Eve (2010) and Oro (2012), which were both conceptualized as long, singular song suites. That may seem like they’re ponderous symphonic prog, but mostly, they are brutal. And trippy. And kind of funny. But also really pissed off, and probably both liquored up and high. Or is that just me?

Ufomammut won’t appeal to everyone, not even all fans of heavy music. You definitely need to be in a receptive mood for it. It’s possible that some people can be a bit too well adjusted for this music. For example, I was in a relatively good, happy place when Ecate came out and the band finally toured North America. I was excited for both the album and show, but I may not have fully appreciated it at the time. Things are a little different this year, and this album is totally satisfying. For example, take “Core,” with the sinister synths, something that sounds like a siren, pummeling percussion and screams in the background. To me it sounds like aliens are running amok in a spaceship, slaughtering people left and right, the ship’s strobe lights flashing emergency blood-red. I’m rooting for the aliens. Oh, the humans couldn’t take care of their own planet so now they’re trying to find another one to shit all over. Fuck you humans, go back and die with your consequences! Yeah, I’m in a dark place, and this is a good soundtrack to it. Continue reading

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Motorpsycho – The Tower (Rune Grammofon/Stickman)

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When’s the last time you were consumed by an album? You put it on thinking you’ll multi-task with background music, but end up unable to do much but listen. You try sort your emails but give up as the album pulls you back into it’s vast, overwhelming sonic world, and spits you out nearly an hour and a half later (of course it’s a double). You’re wrung out, spent, and tired because it’s way past bedtime, but you look up their discography and think “oh crap, there’s another 20 albums that I need to hear.”

If you’re an American, you might have experienced this if you’re a fan of Swans, or perhaps the Melvins. Or if you’re a bit older, maybe not since Quadrophenia, Physical Grafitti or The Wall. Most ‘Psychonauts are in Europe, where Motorpsycho have been a pretty big deal for nearly 30 years. Starting out in post-grunge territory via Trondheim, Norway in the early 90s and named after a Russ Meyer film, they ably consumed influences like the indie psychedelia of Mercury Rev, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and eventually some of the heavier sides of prog rockers like Yes, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator along with proto-metal and art rock. After their first decade they add a touch of stoner/desert rock and a quirky sense of humor that perhaps makes the most sense to Norwegians, giving some idea of the diverse breadth of their psych prog sound. I don’t know if their European sensibility would translate to a larger audience here, but they seem unconcerned. They already have the fame, awards and audience that appreciates the beauty of their massive catalog. Continue reading

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Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains (Matador)

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Looking back at when giants walked the earth, rock ‘n’ roll lifespans were decidedly more compressed. When Jimmy Page put out his seventh album, Presence with Led Zeppelin, he was 32. While it’s a very interesting guitar record, the band were decidedly past their peak. At 44, it’s impossible to tell if Josh Homme is currently at a peak, or that it’s yet to come. While it could be argued that Queens of the Stone Age  were on a downward artistic slope after Songs For The Deaf (2002), Homme mixed things up and collaborated with Page’s former band mate John Paul Jones on 2009’s Them Crooked Vultures., then had some pretty good sized radio hits on …Like Clockwork (2013), and produced the Arctic MonkeysAM that same year which had even bigger hits.

He may have more in common with Iggy Pop, who’s seventh album, if you count his first band The Stooges and the Kill City album, was New Values (1979) at the age of 32. Or since we didn’t count the Yardbirds and Kyuss, for Page and Homme, we could say it’s Blah Blah Blah (1986), when Iggy was 39. While that album may seem to be clearly post-peak Pop, it’s a lot more interesting in retrospect. Besides having a decent radio hit with “Real Wild Child (Wild One),” it was co-produced by his old pal David Bowie, (seventh album, 1974’s Diamond Dogs, age 27) included the Sex Pistols‘ Steve Jones in the band, and sported a fascinating metallic sheen that balanced between the worlds of AOR, pop and heavy metal. And “Cry For Love” and “Winners & Losers” were pretty awesome. Despite I’m sure many predictions for his early death, Pop kept trucking along, making more okay to good albums, reuniting with The Stooges for several awe-inspiring tours, then collaborating with one Josh Homme for the excellent Post Pop Depression (2016) at the age of 69. Continue reading

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My Operator: The Engineer Who Modernized Reggae

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“My Operator” was the affectionate nickname given to the otherwise unsung engineer Sylvan Morris. Also called “The Original Scientist” for his early work in dub, Morris is responsible for the sound of many of the key landmark reggae albums in the mid-70s, including Bob Marley & The WailersBurnin’, Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration. It’s easy to overlook his influence when even reggae scholars like Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton failed to give him credit for his work on albums in their Rough Guide to 100 Essential Reggae albums. Not that they would deny that his engineering work was key to the sound and success of those albums. It’s just that producers traditionally get top billing. Sometimes they did take credit for the work of the engineers. There are thousands of songs out there where Morris’ work is completely uncredited to him.

Growing up in Trenchtown, Kingston, Morris was precocious, building tube amplifiers since he was 12 and fixing electronics for neighbors, and repaired two way radios for a company called Comtech for a year and a half while still in high school. After a brief stint at WIRL (West Indies Records label), that talent and a pitch perfect ear earned the teenager a job assisting engineer Graeme Goodall at Byron Lee’s Dynamic sounds in 1965. He assisted Goodall in updating the studio from two to three and then four tracks. Two years later he spent six months at Duke Reid’s studio, then joined Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, where he would control the board as chief engineer for six years and define the Studio One sound. The studio was actually still only two tracks, and Morris bought another two-track machine to dub more takes, which informed techniques used in dub. Dodd like to take credit for the innovations (despite not even being in the studio much of the time), but very gradually, the truth is leaking out via some liner notes and books like Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (2007).

“Plenty of people don’t talk about that engineer. And Sylvan Morris was an engineer and technician all in one. You understand? Is he teach Errol Thompson…” — Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee (Heptones, Night Food liner notes).

Continue reading

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Second Quarter Rundown

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Technically I didn’t do a first quarter rundown, but between my Heavy Rock Rundown and Jangle Pop piece, I covered most of my favorites for the first three months of the year, with the exceptions of Ty Segall and Nicole Sabouné. I gotta say, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more out of step with what’s fashionable in music. Looking at other Best of 2017 So Far lists, I’ve listened to and can acknowledge the quality of the Kendrick Lamar, Lorde and Future, even if they’re not what I ever feel like listening to. I think the Fleet Foxes, Japandroids, Mac DeMarco, Syd, Thundercat and Mount Eerie are overrated but not terrible. But Harry Styles, Drake, Ed Sheeran and Father John Misty? Yuck. But thank freaking god that’s not all there is. There is still music that transports you, that’s worth getting excited about. Why is Algiers being ignored? At least Stereogum recognized Slowdive, Pallbearer and Elder, I’ve got ya covered for the rest.

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Algiers – The Underside Of Power (Matador)
Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World (Armagedden)

Sitting atop the pile of this years albums like imperious monster-lizards, eyes half-closed, unconcerned with the mortals and their fleeting trends, are by far the two best albums of the year so far. I go back and forth as to which is my favorite, something I’ll have figured out by December. For now, I appreciate the vast differences between these bands, and the very different reasons I admire them. Algiers can be angry and jarring, yet still transcendent and beautiful. Elder can sound massive to the point of claustrophobia, yet startlingly nimble. See full reviews: Algiers | Elder Continue reading

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Algiers – The Underside Of Power (Matador)

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Since Algiers debuted in 2015 with their inspired blend of post-punk/goth/industrial/art rock with gospel and soul, another band, Zeal & Ardor, has gotten attention for mixing gospel with black metal. They actually predated Algiers’ full length with a 2014 debut, but people have really begun to respond this past six months to music that taps into righteous rage that draws on music that evolved during 400 years of slavery. Algiers’ history goes back a while too, as guitarist Lee Tesche, bassist Ryan Mahan knew each other growing up in Atlanta, to the point where they are not quite clear on when exactly the band formed. We do know that at some point, vocalist Franklin James Fisher joined, Tesche and Mahan departed to London for post-graduate studies, and they released a 7″ single in 2012. While the Algiers debut is brilliant, brimming over with ideas and expanding on innovations by bands like TV On The Radio who initially incorporated doo-wop into art rock, The Underside Of Power sees them continue to explore diverse genres while drilling down into a more focused, seething anger. Their power is aided with the addition of former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong. Like the first album, a vivid focal point (whether he wants it to be or not) is Fisher’s vocals, which boast a loaded toolbox that evoke gothic dread, spitting aggression and even sweet soulful melody. Continue reading

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Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World

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Elder is a constantly evolving organism, as all great bands should be. While every album is easily recognizable to me as Elder, and their 2009 debut (which is still great fun) can safely be categorized as stoner doom, their subsequent explorations have cause some confusion. Are they no longer metal? Are they prog? Psychedelic? They are and are not most of those things. While their fourth full-length (but don’t overlook their stellar 22 and a half minute EP Spires Burn from 2012) adds pedal steel (courtesy of guest Michael Samos) and adds Kosmische to their influences, everything is still a frame for guitar. Elder are mainly about guitar worship — the amazing tones that Nicholas DiSalvo can coax from his instrument, and the intricate layers that weave a web that can envelope you in a guitarcentric cocoon should you choose to allow yourself to be fully immersed. And now there’s a second guitar added to the palate via possibly permanent new member Michael Risberg, who also plays with DiSalvo in the Gold & Silver side project. Continue reading

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Martin Popoff – Rush: Album By Album

popoff-rush-albumSince I’ve been reading nearly all books digitally on Kindle devices, it’s a refreshing novelty to hold this coffee table style book in my lap. Rush: Album By Album may not be essential for everyone, but hardcore Rush fans should appreciate the beautifully assembled artifact that can either be read straight through within a day, or browsed piecemeal over a long time period.

Rush had a pretty unique trajectory. Formed in 1968 and influenced by the heavy British rock of The Yardbirds, The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin, they slogged out local gigs for six years, and self-released their debut album in 1974. Success came fairly quickly when a DJ in Cleveland started playing “Working Man,” and they got signed to major label Mercury records. Original drummer John Rutsey left and Neal Peart clicked with the band right away, with Fly By Night (1975) solidifying their hard rock fanbase, while also branching out into progressive rock with “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” They even won over some admirers across the pond in emerging superstars Queen. They got pretty weird on Caress Of Steel (1975) with the 12:31 long “The Necromancer” and side-long epic “The Fountain of Lamneth” and lost some of their audience, who were not necessarily prog fans. Their label was on the verge of dropping them, and pressure them to reign it in with more radio-friendly length songs. Instead, the band defiantly followed their muse and perfected the approach they took on the previous album, but injecting 2112 (1976) with more fury than pretty much anything released that year, including AC/DC, The Ramones, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow and possibly even Judas Priest. Audiences responded well to the side long epic, while the second side had some of their most polished songs yet, including stoner travelogue “A Passage to Bangkok,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Something For Nothing.” Rush hurdled over pop radio and sold tons of albums and filled bigger and bigger venues. While prog rock was becoming unfashionable, Rush released increasingly complicated and ambitious albums with A Farewell To Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978). Continue reading

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