Sacri Monti – Sacri Monti (Tee Pee)

Sacri Monti - Sacri Monti (Tee Pee, 2015)It’s official, Tee Pee is on a roll. While last year Detroit’s Small Stone had a remarkable run of releases for such a small label, rivaled only by the UK’s Rise Above, this year is all about the New York based Tee Pee. They’ve put out some landmark releases over the decade, including Sleep’s Dopesmoker, the first Graveyard album, The Skull, Comet Control, Joy, Naam, Ancesters, Kadavar and Earthless. But in 2015 alone they’ve put out Ruby The Hatchet, Death Alley, The Atomic Bitchwax, FOGG, Mirror Queen, and next month, Carousel. Now there’s the debut from California heavy psych band Sacri Monti.

While their heavy psychedelic rock sound is technically retro, there is no one particular band that they sound like. Not quite a supergroup, the band does have some experienced veterans from the scene, particularly their rhythm section, bassist Anthony Meier of Radio Moscow and drummer Thomas Dibenedetto of JOY. I imagine they dreamed up their sound by starting with the classic 1968-72 era when psychedelic rock morphed into prog, proto-metal and hard rock (Sabbath, Purple, Zep, Crimson) and added their own quirky obsessions with particular underground rock like German kosmische along the lines of the more guitar-shredding moments of Amon Düül II and Guru Guru. along with the space rock of Hawkwind and Nektar. So we’ve got lots of shredding guitar solos, and relatively disciplined use of old school organs and zapping synths, particularly in the context of the fairly sprawling songs averaging seven minutes each.

The album kicks off with a fiery performance in “Staggered In Lies,” which I imagined has been successful in starting off live shows too, with layers of guitar riffs on top of swirling organs and intense vocals. The album builds up with two highlights in a row, the rifftastic “Glowing Grey,” and even catchier “Slipping From The Day,” with a lead guitar lick that could have come from a 1968 psych band, but with a much more insistent buzzsaw tone. It’s the song that perks my ears up the most whenever it comes on. If you crave more, it was scaled back from it’s original 12:00 long demo version. This is heavy shit, but not of course in terms of modern extreme metal standards. But it’s pretty much exactly what I love most in this kind of music, aside from the fact that their songwriting chops have yet to approach the level of, say, Graveyard. But this is a great start.

The next two cuts, “Sitting Around In A Restless Dream” and “Ancient Seas And Majesties” are solid rifforamas, but despite the epic sounding titles, not quite up to the level of the others. Interestingly, they’re both the shortest tracks at 5:05 and 5:37. The album ends with another highlight, the longest cut, the 12:01 “Sacri Monti.” A song sporting the name of your band certainly has to be something special, and it is, with a lovely chord progression that reminds of of Blues Pills’ excellent “Little Sun.” This one of course has a much longer, spacier build-up, and then focuses on a new guitar riff just before the three minute mark and some nice instrumental interplay before the vocals come in at 3:30.

While Mirror Queen and FOGG explore some somewhat similar territory (that would be an awesome triple bill!), Sacri Monti have added a new voice and twist on heavy psych that many will welcome with open arms, raised fists and eventually sold out tickets.

The Psychedelic Psummer continues! See the feature on other top psych releases for summer 2015.

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Psychedelic Psummer: Tame Impala’s Synths Vs. All the Guitars

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After listening to psych noir non-stop for over two months while working on Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir, it’s time to switch it up. Life sometimes necessitates that you exhume yourself from the empty bags and bottles, turn off the Hammer horror movie, put on your shades and go out in the sun. Fortunately there’s great psychedelic music for all occasions.

It’s fitting that one of the most commercially successful psych bands released their third album on July 17, basically the peak of summer. Blueberries are abundant, fireflies are mating, and fortunately fewer people are wearing flip-flops. I consider that the greatest birthday gift of all (mine was on the 16th). One of the several times I’ve seen Tame Impala was in the scorching midday heat at Lollapalooza. That night I would see Black Sabbath, but right then, Tame Impala were the perfect band for the moment, Kevin Parker joking that his pedals were melting under the blazing sun. It’s easy to see why his music has exploded in popularity while other bands that seem on the surface quite similar, languish in underground obscurity. Parker’s key influences may be 60s psychedelia — Pink Floyd, Hendrix, more Bee Gees than Beatles and more Supertramp than Love — but he mixes in elements of shoegaze in his guitar sound with My Bloody Vaentine’s dreamy melancholy, The Flaming Lips’ cosmic explody-ness, and always a subtle undertone of sugary modern pop. Their sound continues to evolve, with debut Innerspeaker (2010) the most traditionally fuzzed out and rockin’, and adding more melody and electronic experimentation on  Lonerism (2012).

Tame Impala - Currents (Interscope, 2015)Currents features more electro pop than ever, citing Prince’s mid-80s funk with a more relaxed, languid feel.  The result has very much a 90s feel along the lines of Stereolab, The High Llamas and Super Furry Animals. The bubbling electronic flourishes evoke the whir of fans, the hum of air conditioners, ice cubes in cold drinks and lapping waves. Great summer music. I won’t lie, I would never choose electronica over intoxicating guitar playing with well executed reverb and fuzz, and points are docked on this album for putting that on the backburner. It’s as if he’s self-conscious about being perceived as pushing forward. But the synths don’t really do anything to change the basic creativity and structure of the songs, only the texture. And really dude, synths go back just as far as guitar distortion and effects pedals. They are no more modern. The one positive change in the production is they have finally escaped the clutches of Dave Fridmann’s overblown blown-out mixing work that has messed many a band up. Continue reading

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Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir

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With hindsight it seems even long before rock music existed, it was destiny for the occult, mysticism, and mythological underworlds from the dark side of human nature and imagination, to become closely tied with particular types of music. Certainly not just any type of music. Orpheus’ journey to Hades would not be served well by a soundtrack of bubbly Calypso or synth pop. But music by Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Dead Skeletons, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Ghost, Mansion, Lola Colt and Lucifer? Yes, that would work nicely.

What’s surprising is that it took so long for a significant collection of artists to focus on consistently dark subject matter.  It wasn’t until the past eight years that what I consider psych noir really took off. While occult rock is the most commonly used descriptor, I feel it is inadequate, because the majority of the bands are not serious practitioners of the occult, mysticism, black magick or Satanism. The occult is simply one of many themes in their lyrics that match up with the dark, psychedelic atmospherics of their music, just like doom is only a minor element of only some of the bands. While I don’t know if anyone else is ever going to use it, I think psych noir is the perfect descriptor, if not genre name. Just like how there is disagreement among scholars whether “film noir” is a legitimate genre, or a “style,” or just a “cycle,” “phenomenon,” “mood” or “series.” Either way, it’s a useful way to address a diverse body of work that shares a disposition and group of elements without having to share every element. Just as not every film noir movie has a femme fatale or a hard boiled detective, not every psych noir band references the occult, witchcraft or hails Satan.

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Often the domain of the edges of pop culture in pulp fiction and comics, film most consistently covered this throughout the 20th century, from German Expressionist cinema to London’s Hammer Film Productions starting in 1935, cult B-movies, and eventually mainstream Hollywood with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The Wicker Man (1973) starring Christopher Lee was one of the more evocative representations of mystical horror and dread. Music, however, lagged behind, with only a handful of artists sporadically dabbling in the dark side. Jim Morrison’s poetic flights into Dionysian bacchanalia and lizard king self-mythologizing with The Doors seem pretty bubblegum tame today, but in 1966-67, it really freaked people out. While it seemed any subject matter could be explored in movies, people took music more personally, and many took rockers’ exploration of frightening subjects seriously and often literally. Many truly believe that The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy With The Devil” truly brought on the tragic events at Altamont in 1969. The acid-crazed dark psychedelia of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (1968) was at the time all about showmanship, with masks and flaming heads. But fans took the lyrics so seriously that they sought Arthur Brown out for spiritual guidance. He ended up taking more serious interests in occult spirituality and explored it with his band Kingdom Come.

Meanwhile, a flip side of San Francisco’s largely peace and love oriented psychedelic scene was the stark, black and white negative imagery of The Velvet Underground, addressing drug addiction, S&M, death and murder with Lou Reed’s somewhat dispassionate thousand-yard lizard gaze. While they would not have considered themselves psychedelic, moments in their first two albums certainly were, and would become essential DNA for a musical foundation supporting many bands in the future. Continue reading

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Goatsnake – Black Age Blues (Southern Lord)

Goatsnake - Black Age Blues (Southern Lord, 2015)I can’t believe it’s been over 10 years since I was mourning the breakup of Goatsnake. Time flies man, and now they’re back. In addition to creating one of the all-time classics of stoner doom, Flower Of Disease (2000), the band is a really interesting focal point in the genre’s history. After The Obsessed broke up in 1996, the rhythm section (Guy Pinhas and Greg Rogers) joined forces with Greg Anderson of Seattle noisy proto-post-rock band Engine Kid and doomsters Burning Witch, (soon to also lead Sunn O)))) and singer Pete Stahl from hardcore band Scream, who’s drummer was Dave Grohl, and a desert session regular. That was a uncertain time for fans of the likes of Kyuss, who were broken up, and Sleep, who finished their masterpiece Dopesmoker the previous year, but their label rejected it twice, were soon to break up in frustration. Continue reading

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Anticipated Albums 2015

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After the late spring avalanche of great new releases last week, things are slowing down for the summer. It’s a good time to take stock of what we have to look forward to. Regular visitors to my Lists section will see that I keep an Upcoming Releases section at the bottom. Albums only make that when they get a title and official release date. For the most part, there are no titles and dates announced yet for these bands, though most have confirmed on Facebook and other venues that they are at some stage of recording, mixing or mastering. I’ll note which ones have been quiet and are included just for hopeful/wishful thinking. The Spotify playlist includes the most recent releases of the bands I’m obsessed with. Continue reading

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Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man (Matador)

Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man (Matador, 2015)When they formed in 2005, the Bay Area-based Ceremony were a hardcore punk band. After three albums, they did a 180 with Zoo (2012), which explored 80s-era British post-punk and even a bit of jangly indie rock and new wave. This intrigued some old fans and perplexed most, but also brought new ones on board like myself. If the band intentionally named themselves after the song that bridged the transition from Joy Division to New Order, this is most likely a return to the band’s earliest influences. There are actually not that many bands currently taking on such a muscular approach to the genre (Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures, Dark Blue, RA), which makes this an even more welcome addition to the post-punk family. Continue reading

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Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face, 2015)Back in 1992-93, I used to love this band called Th’ Faith Healers. I felt like I could listen to their mix of Can/Neu! worshipping motorik rhythms and fuzzy garage psych forever. Sadly they broke up pretty quickly, and a couple members carried on as Quickspace a few more years, but it wasn’t the same, and then it was over. That all happened in the UK, and I never got to see that band live. Meanwhile in the U.S., John Dwyer was graduating from high school just as that band got rolling. By the end of the decade, he had migrated from Providence, R.I. to San Francisco, and became active in a million bands. It wasn’t until his “family” band Thee Oh Sees’ ninth album Putrifiers II (2012) that I realized it’s kind of a musical reincarnation of Th’ Faith Healers, but far more prolific, and an extra “e” to spare. Songs like “Wax Face” and “Lupine Dominus” grabbed my attention, and “No Spell” sealed the deal for me from Floating Coffin (2013). The motorik psych fuzz is back! Continue reading

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Hard Rock Ascending

hard-rock-ascendingAnyone watching That Metal Show can be forgiven for thinking hard rock is dead. Eddie Trunk smooching the wrinkled asses of washed-up rockers is not a pretty sight, and their focus seems to be forever on side projects of former sidemen of former greats. I mean, the dudes gotta make a living, and I am drawn to the spectacle like moth to flame. I probably should check out the new Black Star Riders at some point. The frustrating thing is that there are a bunch of younger bands bringing a lot of new energy and life to to hard rock, who are almost completely ignored by the show, the mainstream press and music buyers. The other guys do occasionally give props to the likes of Witchcraft and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats on the Pick of the Week segment (Trunk can’t be bothered with any new bands). Occult, doom and some psychedelic bands that lean toward indie rock are getting some attention, but there’s also some really strong hard rock bands. These hairy dudes may not make sexy copy in the gossip columns and blogs, and are probably not on a career path to fame and fortune, but they do really fucking love to play, and have put out some pretty great music recently. Continue reading

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Demon Eye – Tempora Infernalia (Soulseller)

Demon Eye -  Tempora Infernalia (2015, Soulseller)With the average time span between album releases being somewhere between three and four years these days, it’s kind of thrilling when a favorite new band follows up their debut with another album in just a year. You’d think it would make sense for more bands influenced by the 70s era of rock, when giants roamed the earth, dropping albums every year or less. Back then it was the strategy of labels big and small to regularly have fresh music to promote with each tour. It’s a different economic model now, which makes it such a treat when a band like Demon Eye can duplicate that kind of pace on a much smaller budget. Continue reading

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Arenna – Given To Emptiness (Nasoni)

Arenna - Given To Emptiness (2015)During the five year lapse between Colour Haze albums, Arenna emerged with their full-length debut at the perfect time with Beats Of Olarizu (2011). While it seemed they were simply hatched in perfection, with just the right fuzzy guitar tones, the Spanish heavy psych rockers had been kicking around honing their craft since at least 2005. While the vocals were clearly influenced by Kyuss’ John Garcia and Colour Haze was the most prominent band to expand on those desert rock tones with a Hendrixian flair, Arenna have carved their own niche.  In a musical world currently rich with all kinds of psychedelic music, some rooted in classic 60′s songwriting structures, others veering into progressive territories, Arenna are part of an alluring, underground European network who worship the riff, tone and texture, with vocals and hooks taking a backseat, if they’re even there at all. This includes My Sleeping Karma of Germany and Glowsun of France among others, who both also have albums coming out soon. Continue reading

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