More of a late summer edition, but it didn’t seem right evoking summer after the autumn equinox. While the release schedule in the summer slows down somewhat, I fall into a false sense of complacency when really there is a ton of music left undiscovered from the first half of the year, leaving me playing catchup when the the rush of early Autumn releases are unleashed in September. After a rare burst of good taste of mainstream consumers resulting in #1 albums by Vampire Weekend, Queens of the Stone Age and Black Sabbath in the early summer, things have gone back to normal with the likes of Jay-Z, Selena Gomez, Robin Thicke and Ariana Grande back on top, and doofus writers have gone back to proclaiming the death of guitars.
I enjoy a bit of electronica and sugary pop, but am grateful that there is still a large scene of heavy guitar bands who are completely stoked to perform live, which remains in my opinion a billion times more entertaining than watching electronic dance music and pop. No wonder MDMA use is spreading to the pop arenas. They feel the need for drugs to combat the boredom. Luckily there’s plenty of music that’s psychedelic, but exciting enough to be thoroughly engage a sober audience (despite the fact that much of it is identified as stoner/psych/doom).
Vista Chino – Peace (Napalm)
The road to this album began at Roadburn 2010, the awesome music fest in the Netherlands which featured John Garcia Sings Kyuss. From all accounts fans were thrilled to hear Kyuss songs live, often for the first time. Eventually Garcia was joined by drummer Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri, and 3/4 of the original band were touring as Kyuss Lives! Talented Belgian musician Bruno Fevery (Arsenal) took over guitar. It seemed almost too good to be true, and it was, when album plans were delayed by a lawsuit from Josh Homme and Scott Reeder over the name, and Nick getting in some trouble with the law. Despite the turmoil, they regrouped as Vista Chino and completed the album, with Oliveri participating on most of it before leaving. The results are awesome, yet for some reason reactions were mixed. The album references Kyuss’ sound but moves past it. If you want to insist on comparing Vista Chino to Kyuss, the fact is that Peace beats the hell out of half of Kyuss’ four album catalog – Wretch (1991) and …And The Circus Leaves Town (1995). Kyuss were groundbreaking, great, and imperfect, but a more fair and appropriate comparison would be with the two albums Garcia did with Unida, his strongest work after Kyuss. Peace holds up well next to Coping With The Urban Coyote (1999) and The Great Divide (2001). It wanes just slightly on the second half, but is still surprisingly strong and consistent, with first single “Dargona Dragona” offering a pile of great riffs and Garcia’s turbocharged vocals. I saw them live the other night and they were tight and loud, delivering the sandblasted tones with passion and precision. | Buy
SubRosa – More Constant Than The Gods (Profound Lore)
Salt Lake City’s SubRosa has fulfilled their promise on their fourth album beyond all expectations. In the beginning they were a rough sounding sludge band with PJ Harvey style vocals. By their third album No Help For The Mighty Ones (2011), they introduced violins for a sort of progressive, avant-doom. The new album finds them at a powerful peak with four of the six sprawling songs running from 11 to 14 minutes each. It’s more psychedelic and experimental, heavier and more memorable than ever. A landmark metal release that seems underappreciated in a busy week (September 17) of releases that also saw albums from Ulcerate, Carcass, Windhand, Pinkish Black and others. Those who know what’s up will will hopefully give this the attention it deserves by end of year.
Causa Sui – Euporie Tide (El Paraiso)
Denmark’s Causa Sui was formed in 2005 by Jonas Munk, who has another career as an electronica musician known as Manual, who’s debut came out in 2001 on the famous IDM label Morr. Since then he’s had a dozen releases as Manual, and Euporie Tide is his seventh with the stoner psych project, counting the three separate volumes of Summer Sessions (2008-09). Like Colour Haze, on whose label Elektrohasch they started out on, Causa Sui specialize in liquidy psychedelic jams that explore a multitude of tones, textures and jazz-like improvisation. In recent years they’ve gotten pretty loosy-goosey between the five discs of Summer Sessions and Pewt’r Sessions (2011), adding up to over three and a half hours of jams that work great in the background, but can be a bit much to focus on in singular sittings. Not so with Euporie Tide, which feel a bit more composed and orchestrated, but no less trippy, resulting in an engaging listen despite its relatively epic 64 minute length. It grew on me gradually since its late summer release, especially when the rich sounds stood out when I’d listen to the new releases on random. It’s revealed itself as a career highlight, and a great place to start for people new to the band. | Buy
Arctic Monkeys – AM (Domino)
Back in 2006, it was hard not to react negatively against the hype surrounding Arctic Monkeys and their hectic, sloppy debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. It was decent garage rock with a few clever lyrics, but not that deserving of the massive amount of adoration and hype it received. It remains hugely overrated in retrospect. It wasn’t until their next album, Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), that they showed they really were a potentially great band, much less derivative of The Libertines and The Strokes, just as the bandwagon jumpers grew tired of them and moved on. On Humbug (2009) they pushed themselves into unfamiliar territory with Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) as producer. While it wasn’t full-blown desert rock, they did achieve a heavier, dryer satisfying sound. Suck It And See (2011) retained some of the heaviness while returning to a more garagey sound, and they must have felt they had unfinished business and returned to Homme for AM. It was a good choice, as they benefited from his recent experiments with his own work and came up with their most fully realized, diverse sounding, and best album. They’ve cited Dr. Dre as an influence, but not in an awkward attempt at hip-hop, but rather the beats and drum sounds, producing a sensual whiskey-soaked after-midnight atmosphere. Arctic Monkeys are officially at the big boy table, with an album that may or may not be a hit, but will be remembered as proof that yes, British guitar pop bands still can and do make consistently great albums. At least this one can. It also convinces me that while I normally avoid seeing most indie rock bands live anymore in favor of heavy stoner/doom/psych/metal, I reckon the Arctic Monkeys would put on a good show. They did well as one of the featured bands in last year’s opening ceremony of the London Olympics, a good indication they’re finally getting the recognition of a band that will be around for a long time to come.
PINS- Girls Like Us (Bella Union)
Along with Savages‘ single and live tracks last year, I also became enamored by another all-female post-punk band called PINS, based on their very promising Luvu4lyf EP (Bella Union, 2012). This band from Lancashire, England has a couple similarities with Savages beyond gender, such as a fairly hard, menacing sound. But their influences and ultimate sound diverges with PINS unique combination of early Hole-via-New York noise of Swans and Sonic Youth, and subversion of catchy girl group pop choruses and hooks. Nothing so accessible that you’ll see it on the pop charts, but definitely a sweet topping to their serrated, noisy edge. It remains to be seen if singer/guitarist Faith Holgate can muster up similar levels of intensity as Jehnny Beth in performance, but it need not be an either/or competition. There’s plenty of room for both bands and more in this relatively barren post-punk, pre-apocalyptic landscape.
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (Domino)
This one might raise some eyebrows, as many may feel the time of UK indie post-punk guitar pop is long past its expiration date. With that logic, I guess we have no business listening to any kind of guitar-based music anymore and should only be overdosing on MDMA at douchey EDM shows, eating all our meals in convenient smoothies and substituting cybersex for the more archaic real thing. It’s true that Franz Ferdinand forever seem to be teetering on collapse. Despite the fact that their last few albums are just as strong as recent ones by Arctic Monkeys, perhaps it feels like their time was passed because their 2004 debut was just so damn good, and they have been unable to surpass it. Or the fact that they’ve taken four long years between their last couple releases. Right Thoughts… is a step up from their third album, Tonight (2009) which was a strong album despite what critics are saying recently, but just slightly less consistent than previous work. The latest is top-heavy in catchy songs that might sound to some like they’re striving hard for a hit. Or maybe they’ve just stopped giving a flyin’ F about expectations and are just doing what they do, exuberant, dancey guitar rock better than anyone else. Leave yr baggage outside and enjoy, no irony necessary.
Weekend – Jinx (Slumberland)
Formed in San Francisco and since relocated to New York, Weekend released their debut album Sports in 2010, a prickly union of post-punk and shoegaze, favoring the noisy side. Their new album Jinx is both darker and sleeker, suggesting they might have been listening to influential proto-dark wave bands like The Chameleons, Breathless, Modern Eon, and For Against. As far as I know, they may have never even heard of some of those bands, but absorbed those influences along with the usual Joy Division, The Cure and My Bloody Valentine via more contemporary bands. However they got there, Weekend stands out with a striking mix of moody atmospherics and driving tempos. The tunes don’t jump out and dance for you like Franz Ferdinand’s but reluctantly reveal their pleasures over close repeated listens. Most bands like this tend to bloom and fade quickly, like The Blue States and Sennen, perhaps because of the limited commercial appeal, despite the fact that their sounds are like crack to people like me. Cherish them while you can.
Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady (Bad Boy)
Three years after her impressive TheArchAndroid (2010), Janelle Monáe is finally back with the confident and sprawling The Electric Lady. It’s full of collaborations with Solange, Miguel, her mentor Erykah Badu and even the mighty Prince. Subtitled Suites IV and V, it’s a continuation of the sci-fi Metropolis storyline begun on her debut, the Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP (2007). As good as the Prince collaboration is on “Givin Em What They Love,” it’s merely a warm-up compared to “Q.U.E.E.N.” with Erykah Badu, who gamely participates in her video complete with the P-Funktastic line “the booty don’t lie” and discofied breakdown. It’s followed by another highlight, “Electric Lady” with Solange. That trio of songs blows away anything else I’ve heard in the R&B and pop realm this year, and there’s still another 51 minutes left in the album. The rest is nearly as strong, except for the interludes that get a little old, including “Ghetto Woman” and “Sally Ride.” Monáe’s psychedelic soul is so impressive in scope, intelligence and weirdness that unfortunately I think it’s going to orbit way over the heads of most of her potential audience who’s brains have been bludgeoned by Selena, Miley and Katy, who more aptly resemble soul-less androids than Monáe’s android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather. Their loss.
Weedpecker – Weedpecker (Weedpecker)
After being psyched that one of my favorite stoner doom metal bands Elder was recording earlier this year, I was bummed to hear they were taking a hiatus while one of them goes to Europe. Fortunately at least Poland’s Weedpecker are fans and have incorporated some of their amazing tones into their own sound. Thick slabs of grunge dripping with Jalapeno barbecue sauce courtesy of Wo Fat can also be heard, along with some Colour Haze in the spacier bits. Standouts are “Berenjena Pipe” and “Sativa Landscapes,” but “Mindbreath,” “Kraken” and “Weedfields (Ft. Cheesy Dude)” all have some amazing sounds and riffs. A thoroughly enjoyable debut that may not be completely original, but is a welcome addition to the relatively scarcity of bands that hit all the right buttons.
Windhand – Soma (Relapse)
It’s great to see so many bands I covered a year and a half ago in the Metal Sirens piece grow and flourish. After releasing a heavy, Electric Wizard-influenced self-titled debut last year, Windhand has since toured repeatedly, blowing minds and earning the respect from new fans everywhere they go, and getting signed to Relapse records. Soma is an appropriately challenging follow-up, with an even more massively heavy sound. The songs keep stretching out longer and longer until the final two tracks “Cassock” at 13:45 and “Boleskine” at 30:29 when time seems to simply stop, and you’re trapped in a world where the walls simply will not stop vibrating. It can be a discomforting experience for some, but one that is awesomely impressive in shows.
Pinkish Black – Razed To The Ground (Century Media)
Fort Worth, TX’s Pinkish Black are an incredibly unique band who may be lucky to have been included on a lot of metal best-of lists last year, as otherwise no one would know would to do with them and they could have languished in obscurity as an avant-garde oddity. While there are some elements of doom metal, they spend more time delving into synth textures and industrial drones, no-wave, post-punk and goth/dark wave. Metal label Century Media picked them up for their second album, which is an impressive follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut. The production is significantly improved while still maintaining a dark, murky feel. Named after the color of the blood on the bathroom wall after their original bassist killed himself, this band is guaranteed major legendary cult status.
Witchburn – Bathed In Blood (Witchburn)
Seattle’s Witchburn has been floating under the radar for a while, self-releasing their debut This Is How We Slay Our Demons… in 2010, which is highly recommended to fans of Uta Plotkin’s bluesy vocals in Witch Mountain with a grittier Janis Joplin edge, and heavy doom mixed with elements of NWOBHM and high energy hard rock along the lines of fellow west-coasters Castle. The sound of Bathed In Blood also reminds me at times of early, heavier Soundgarden, Tad and Screaming Trees. This makes sense as both their albums were produced by Jack Endino. The man has been busy in recent years, producing other metal bands like Black Tusk, Early Man, Valient Thorr, Skeletonwitch and 3 Inches Of Blood. Witchburn has talent to burn, with powerhouse vocalist Jami Nova who came from the all-female AC/DC tribute band Hell’s Belles, and guitarist Mischa Kianne who can shred with the best of ’em. They’re anchored by the burly rhythm section Dana Sims and Jacy Peckham. They are certainly firing on all broomsticks (sorry) and deserving as much attention as the other bands previously mentioned. | Buy
Other excellent releases came out by Iron Tongue, Brutus, Diesto, The Flying Eyes, Ice Dragon, Satan, Sinister Realm, Monolith Cult, Jesu, Spiral Shades, Miss Lava and Neko Case. More exciting releases are to come from Argus, Horisont, In Solitude, Earthless, The Dismemberment Plan, Monster Magnet, Dead Meadow, Sahg, Noctum, White Denim, Melvins, M.I.A., Circle, Slough Feg and Truckfighters.