Goat – Commune (Rocket Recordings)

Goat - Commune (Rocket Recordings, 2014)Goat – Commune (Rocket Recordings)
When Goat’s debut World Music came out in 2012 and immediately earned a pile of praise and attention, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I welcome a new Swedish psych band with interesting ideas of mixing Afrobeat and kosmische with voodoo-based costumes and stage show. On the other, the hype they received seemed disproportionate to the overall quality compared with some other bands in the scene. Despite a few attention-stretching lulls in the album, their whole concept was just too well executed to dismiss. They proved themselves with a captivating live show with the amazing costumes, dancing and musicianship. I don’t care whether their claims to freakish cult spiritualism is bullshit or not, they work their asses off  to create powerful experiences.

The new album remains committed to the hypnotic Afrobeat on acid theme, and while much of the sounds are familiar, it succeeds by improving on the first album in pretty much every way. The hooks are more substantial, the grooves are groovier, and it sounds harder and even more dangerous, as if modeled after the badass Toureg band Tinariwen but with more lysergic guitar solos.  And amazingly, it feels like the lyrics are not just there for decoration, but they truly do have some kind of spiritual message. Mind you, their shouty ceremonial style is sometimes hard to understand, but snippets emerge with references to the human wreckage of war, abuse of power, people living on their knees, and in the spoken intro to “To Travel The Path Unknown,” “the positive force of the constant creation of evolution.”  Okay, so maybe these Swedes are more hippy than scary occult whackadoos, but it’s all good when the music gets this great. Especially when it grows fangs like on the excellent, driving and fairly menacing sounding “Goatslaves.” The only thing left for them to master is to come up with some amazing videos that can do their sound, image and myth justice.

goat-photo

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The Well – Samsara (RidingEasy)

The Well - Samsara (RidingEasy, 2014)The Well – Samsara (RidingEasy, 2014)
Small Stone isn’t the only indie heavy rock label that’s ablaze with a string of great releases. RidingEasy Records (they had to change their name from Easy Rider for legal reasons) looks at first like someone’s irreverent hobby label with Sabbath Worship patches, “Keep On Fuckin’” shirts and novelty cassette tape releases. But in just over a year they’ve built up an impressive roster of over a dozen bands covering stoner, doom, psych, garage, punk, hard rock in all kinds of hybrid variations. The latest this week is a stellar debut from Austin’s The Well. Since 2012 they’ve released well received records in a single and EP.

Most of the songs were re-recorded for their full-length debut, but still retain the fuzzed-out edges of their garagey psych-doom, laced with some bluesy proto-metal (think Blue Cheer, Mountain). While they inhabit a niche that has a few close neighbors in Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and Satan’s Satyrs. Like those bands and the massively influential Electric Wizard, who’s latest album comes out a week later, they’re big fans of campy occult horror films, and exude that lava lamp and incense vibe, but freshened up with some punk attitude. Just because a handful of similar minded bands have emerged the past few years, don’t let some assholes poop on the party and say it’s already tired or played out. If anything’s played out, it’s the thousands of shitty fame-whore pop artists you hear non-stop, everywhere. As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t have the option to go out and hear a live performance of mind melting psychedelic doom rock just about every week, there there aren’t enough of these MFers.

I’ll be stoked to see The Well live when they eventually come around, as they’ve distinguished themselves with a recognizably unique signature sound with the layered vocals of guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley.  They don’t harmonize so much as pigpile on each other in an approach that isn’t terribly melodic, like a doomy X, but sounds nicely menacing and meshes well with the music’s lazy groove. From the Rod Serling-like audio clip about the Egyptian temples of Amun-Re to the pounding blues of “Trespass,” the riffs stretching out to jams that completely hold my interest every second, this is a damn good debut. The only track I’m captivated by is “Lucifer Sam,” a cover of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd classic that I’ve never really loved. The poppy 60s melody sounds slightly out of place, and I feel like they could have been less reverent and done more to improve it and make their more more of a signature statement of their own peculiar insanity. But perhaps that’s my own baggage, as I’m sure it’s a big hit at the live shows. “Eternal Well” is a better example of what they do best, progressing from a slow, woozy psychedelic crawl to a raging rocker with captivating solos, and circling back to their heavy, memorable doom riff. Even the CD bonus track “I Bring The Light” goes from strength to strength.

I don’t know what’s going on in Texas, like their hot sauces contain some super doom powers, but there’s quite an impressive group of bands that have come up lately with Venomous Maximus, Hornss, Funeral Horse and of course The Sword and Wo Fat. The Well measure up nicely, with the potential of growing like a radiation-charged lizard. | Buy

I’m not kidding about the quality of RidingEasy releases. Along with The Well, I got a batch of CDs in my order, and even tried one (The Picturebooks) unheard. While the vinyl can be pricey, the CDs are only $7 each.

Monolord – Empress Rising | Review
Electric Citizen – Sateen | Review
Spiral Shades – Hypnosis Sessions | Review
Hornss – No Blood, No Sympathy | Review
The Picturebooks – Imaginary Horse (Oct 7)
Salem’s Pot – Lurar ut dig på prárien | Bandcamp
Aleph Null – Nocturnal | Bandcamp
Sons Of Huns – Banishment Ritual | Bandcamp

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Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)

Shellac - Dude Incredible (Touch & Go, 2014)Shellac – Dude Incredible (Touch and Go)
Despite Shellac’s infrequent shows and albums (Dude Incredible is only their fifth album in 20 years), I was lulled into taking them for granted for a while. Since first seeing them live in 1993 at the Lounge Ax, where they set up on the floor rather than the stage, and buying their first three singles with hand-painted art, I’ve been a fan. Steve Albini’s willingness to take those in the music industry to task for various crimes and misdemeanors generated split opinions about his music, leading some to misjudge his bands. Sure, there was always a molten core of punk rage to his work, but to see them live usually meant a lot of jokes. The trio exuded the good-natured aura of musicians enjoying what they do without the pressure of trying to win over a larger audience, impress industry execs or feed their families with long tours. They have their day jobs, and when they can, they do what they love best, making music with friends. While At Action Park (1994) is a complete classic which measures up to the finest work of the bands Albini admired the most at the time, The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi, Terraform (1998), 1000 Hurts (2000) and Excellent Italian Greyhound (2007) were solid, interesting albums, but felt somewhat lacking in urgency to my ears. Continue reading

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Post-Punk Rundown

It’s been such a great year for stoner/psych/doom that I’ve just been soaking in it like a hot spring, and neglecting other genres. I’ll always have room for post-punk, and have been following the releases pretty closely. It just hasn’t been as busy a year for high profile releases as 2012-13 (Savages, Beastmilk, PINS, Weekend, Holograms, Palma Violets, Merchandise, Deep Time, Makthaverskan, etc.). Still, there’s some albums worth noting. Not anything (yet) that’s going to haunt my top 40, but hovering just under, with the exception of some albums where post-punk is an element, but not the primary one, like the latest from Wovenhand, The Sea KingsThe New Christs, Swans and Parquet Courts. Coming up on October 20, The Mark Lanegan Band’s Phantom Radio will have some post-punk influences. “…although the Trees drew on Nuggets psychedelia, 13th Floor Elevators and Love, we were actually listening to Echo And The Bunnymen, Rain Parade, the Gun Club. A lot of British post-punk. We loved that stuff. I just waited until I was in my late forties before I started ripping it off” Lanegan told Backseat Mafia.

There was a bit of anticipation for the recently released second album by Merchandise, which took an audacious new pop direction to mostly successful ends. Interpol’s first album in four years and first since a lineup change was both anticipated and dreaded by fans, often simultaneously, for good reasons. But the results are a pleasant surprise.

Interpol - El Pintor (Matador, 2014)Interpol – El Pintor (Matador)
Interpol have been my post-punk whipping boys for well over a decade. Despite the ridiculous lyrics, the music of their debut Turn On The Bright Lights (2002) has stood the test of time. But I guess part of me never forgave them for an interview where they claimed having never heard The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, and probably some other key post-punk pioneers. That was complete bullshit, as I heard their influences all over the record. They might as well have denied knowledge of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths. It’s one of the reasons I prefer metal bands, who would never be so disingenuous as to blatantly deny their obvious influences. Antics (2004) seemed a complete letdown at the time, but compared to the greatly diminished returns of the next two albums, it doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect. I admit I experienced some schadenfreude from their failure, but I still kind of hoped they could bounce back and make another great album. And so with these greatly diminished expectations, we are presented with El Pintor. It’s a promising title, a little bold and cocky sounding, though it simply translates to “The Painter.” They shed Carlos Dengler and his dark energy, and singer Paul Banks gamely took on bass duties. It’s early to say it’s a total triumph, but it’s definitely a comeback. I don’t know if they redeemed themselves by kissing Mark Burgess’ ring, or if they’re just refreshed after a long break and culling the herd. From the slow buildup to a pretty great, high energy single in “All the Rage Back Home” to “Anywhere,” “Ancient Ways,” “Breaker 1,” “Everything Is Wrong,” to even the somewhat odd pop of “My Blue Supreme,” they hit the target every time. They may never match their debut, but this is easily better than Antics, which is more than anyone ever expected.  I’m glad they stuck it out. Continue reading

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Doom Tectonics: Earth & YOB

Earth - Primitive And Deadly (Southern Lord, 2014)Earth – Primitive And Deadly (Southern Lord)
Earth and YOB are two bands that I’ve admired for years. Earth’s flawed but groundbreaking Extra-Capsular Extraction (Sub Pop, 1991) influenced drone-doom just as much as Slint and My Bloody Valentine influenced other genres that year. Like our planet’s drifting continental plates, they evolved just as gradually as the early instrumental tracks seemed to unfold, experimenting with many styles, ending up with a sort of world-weary, cactus-dry Americana on their past few albums. While requiring a bit of patience, most of their albums are pretty rewarding. But in their explorations, there was also an emotional distance that was such a given, I never even though to wonder, “what if…” Dylan Carlson did, however. After the extremely laid back acoustic based Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light Vols. 1 & 2 (2011-12), recorded while Carlson was dealing with some health issues, he’s ready to rock out with his cock out. Or at least write and record with more focus an energy than ever before. Continue reading

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New Albums of the Week

The dog days of summer are not usually the time of year I see a lot of high profile releases, which is why I was so surprised that over ten good to great albums came out around August 5th. The albums from Blues Pills, Brimstone Coven, The Sea Kings, Spoon, John Garcia, Saturn, Spiral Shades and John Gallow probably weren’t highly anticipated by a lot of people, but they were some of the best 2014 has had to offer so far. This week we’re really rolling with even more releases. With over 15,000 albums released a year, of course there’s always a lot of crap coming out, but a batch of thirteen albums worth hearing in August is certainly worth noting. My excitement isn’t quite the same as with the last batch, but they’re significant releases that all have their fans, many well worth checking out.

Death Penalty - Death Penalty (Rise Above, 2014)Death Penalty – Death Penalty (Rise Above)
This is released only in Europe so far, which I don’t understand. Staggering release dates by country is a completely antiquated practice. It’s 2014, when an album is out, it’s out. Labels and bands would be better off making sure everyone can buy it at the same time. Despite being a debut album, this has a pretty high anticipation factor, considering it’s leader is Gaz Jennings, who played guitar in Cathedral for 25 years. He recruited a couple members of the excellent Belgian doom/sludge band SerpentCult, including vocalist Michelle Nocon, and a member of Belgian death metallers Tortureama. Given how great the results were when Leif Edling of Candlemass recruited Jennie-Ann Smith for Avatarium last year, I felt there might be some friendly competition from Death Penalty. For the most part, it delivers, but leaning more towards traditional metal than doom. The performances have a nicely loose and gritty feel, kind of like a slightly slower Christian Mistress or Castle. However after over a dozen listens, I can’t quite rave about it like I expected, as a few of the songs just don’t quite do it for me feeling a bit flat. There’s great standouts like  ”Eyes of the Heretic” and “She is a Witch,” but overall it’s not consistent enough to quite measure up to the aforementioned bands, recent albums by The Oath or Satyress, or even SerpentCult’s Raised By Wolves (2011). Nevertheless, fans of Jennings’ career and his love for classic metal will find much to dig into. Continue reading

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Double Dose of Doom: Pallbearer & Cardinals Folly

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)
When I saw Pallbearer live after releasing their debut album Sorrow and Extinction (2012), it was clear that they take their doom seriously. With such somber subject matter, some might wonder how else one would expect them to be. But there are plenty of doom bands that emphasize other aspects, such as campy love of horror kitsch loaded with obscure, nerdy humor. Doom might not be the first metal genre to bring to mind “party music,” but it exists! Pallbearer aren’t out to ruin your party, but they’ll be there for you after, at 3 a.m. when your girlfriend has dumped you. Not that they’re exactly about romantic breakups, but rather more colossal calamities like bloodlust, crippling regret and the end of time. They’ll make your problems seem not so big a deal. Continue reading

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The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) & Hits – Hikikomori (Conquest Of Noise)

New Christs - Incantations (Impedance, 2014)The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) 
Someone coming across The New Christs’ latest album Incantations in the top ten for the year in the post-punk and garage rock charts at Rate Your Music could easily believe they’re a relatively new band. The sound isn’t exactly brand new, but the menacing edge and vital songwriting suggests an energy not normally associated with ones pushing 60. But they’re not so new, having been a band in varying forms since 1981, lead by the not so young Rob Younger, best known as the lead singer for the legendary Aussie sons-of-the Stooges Radio Birdman from 1974-78. Along with The Saints and The Birthday Party, they established templates in punk and post-punk that would be followed by bands in Australia and throughout the world. Continue reading

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New Albums of the Week

Summer is usually a slow time for new releases, but the first week of August has turned out to be full of great ones. Blues Pills’ debut of course is already strong contender for my year-end top 13.  Read full review here. There’s more than a half dozen other new albums totally deserving of attention too.

Brimstone Coven (Metal Blade, 2013)Brimstone Coven – Brimstone Coven (Metal Blade)
This is actually a reissue of last year’s self-released II, with their 2012 debut as bonus tracks, remastered.  Formed in Wheeling, WV in 2011, Brimstone Coven specialize in heavy psych, doom and proto-metal with occult themes. With high profile releases in recent years by The Devil’s Blood, Ghost and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, some might question what this band has to offer that’s special. The answer is some freaking brilliant songwriting and harmonies.  Metal Blade certainly recognized this and signed the band. I don’t normally focus on reissues, but clearly not enough people heard this band previously, and they need to.  It can be fun to dig in and identify possible influences, such as perhaps Jack Bruce in the Big John Williams’ vocals, and plenty of obscure proto-metal influences. But it all comes down to their craft, mastery, musicianship and range. Think in terms of the level of Witchcraft (either the band or the magic, you pick). The arrangements, flow and mood of this album perfectly match the songwriting. Fans of the aforementioned bands and Purson and Blood Ceremony won’t be disappointed.

Continue reading

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Blues Pills – Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast)

Blues Pills - Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast, 2014)While Blues Pills is a brand new name for many, their debut full-length has felt like a long time coming, given that they turned some heads just six months after forming by releasing the Bliss EP (2012). They sounded fully formed and experienced despite the fact that their guitarist was just 16 years old. Rhythm section Cory Berry (drums) and Zach Anderson (bass) were playing a 2011 gig in France with their previous band Radio Moscow, and they were hugely impressed by the opening band, featuring guitar prodigy Dorian Sorriaux. Sorriaux lived and breathed music at an early age, with ZZ Top being his first favorite band at the age of 4. He began playing guitar at 9, with Rory Gallagher, Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Paul Kossof (Free) as additional influences. Later that year Cory and Zach met Swedish singer Elin Larsson in California. They started writing music together and sent Dorian demos. By December, they became the Blues Pills, with the two Americans, who were originally from Iowa, moving to Sweden to establish a home base in Örebro. Let’s hope their experience assimilating into a new culture is going more smoothly than Greg Poehler is portraying in his comedy Welcome To Sweden! Continue reading

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