Just two weeks from now year-end lists will start coming out, particularly from the handful of print publications that would have to have finalized their lists before I even wrote this. You won’t see most of these recent releases in those kinds of lists, but stay tuned in December and you will in some of the stoner-psych-doom oriented blogs, and after I’ve sorted through another hundred or so albums, my own Lucky 13 lists. For me there weren’t as many high-profile releases from my favorite artists as last year, but this autumn’s batch was certainly strong. I won’t know what to think about the year until I’ve spent at least another few weeks discovering gems that I’ve missed earlier. Sit tight and enjoy these for now!
White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade (Downtown)
Tiresome “rock is dead” articles continue to be churned out, and they piss me off as always. Those who complain about the lack of new music in touch with the history of jazz-blues-soul-psych while still being original haven’t heard White Denim. Now on their fifth album, they are far more deserving the accolades lavished on The Arcade Fire’s latest by major publications. | Full Review
At Devil Dirt – Plan B: Sin Revolución No Hay Evolución (Bilocation)
There is no revolution without evolution. The politicized lyrical theme of At Devil Dirt’s third album in three years doubles as their m.o. Their debut album featured thick desert rock fuzz packaged in concisely catchy packages wrapped with Néstor “Gato” Ayala’s multi-tracked harmonies. While Chapter II “Vulgo gratissimus auctor” (2012) is darker and heavier, it sounds fairly lighthearted compared to Plan B’s intensity. They unleash their anger and doom out on the 13:28 “40 Years Ago” which revisits the tumultuous history of their native Chile. They are confident enough to tackle the Beatles on “Across The Universe,” and then get down and evil with the occult horror vibe of closer “There Is Not A God Or A Devil.” Stunning.
Beastmilk – Climax (Svart/Magic Bullet) Nov. 29
Finnish label Svart has been putting out some pretty quality avant folk and stoner-doom-psych-occult rock. Beastmilk is their first excursion into post-punk. Inheriting the apocalyptic dread of early Killing Joke and some vocal similarities with Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and Paul Banks of Interpol, they stay on the heavy side of The Chameleons, The Sound and Echo & The Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here. The gallows humor nestled within the morbid lyrics of “Death Reflects Us,” “Genocidal Crush,” “Nuclear Winter” and “Surf The Apocalypse” should attract fans of both doom metal and dark wave. Indifferent parties will complain of similarities to some of the above bands, while fans who have been missing this kind of sound lately will welcome this with extended fangs.
Noctum – Final Sacrifice (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
The best of a stellar bunch of traditional metal albums released in October that I covered on Bloody Thundering Alehorns On Mountaintops – Traditional Heavy Metal Reaches New Heights (Argus, Atlantean Kodex, Horisont, In Solitude, Iron Man, Twilight Of The Gods). This Swedish band has evolved from Witchcraft-influenced stoner doom to heavier, more traditional metal, with every cut rippling with killer riffs. | Full Review
All Them Witches – Lightning At The Door (All Them Witches, 2013)
After self-releasing their music on Bandcamp, Elektrohasch remastered and issued Our Mother Electricity last year. The Nashville, TN based band is the only American band to have made the roster of the German label run by Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze. Their style of stoner desert blues is distinctly American, and their own. There’s no direct comparisons for sound, with only vague associations with Giant Sand that probably are in my own head and not the band’s, and a touch of menacing folk-Americana of Wovenhand. Much of their sound comes down to their secret weapon, drummer Robby Staebler. His deceptively laid back, lurching rhythms allow for a lot of space in the music while enhancing it with drama such as the middle section of “Swallowed By The Sea.” This recording really captures the full range of his heavy toms and singer Michael Parks, Jr.’s bass where the first album didn’t. Imagine if John Bonham had listened to Captain Beefheart and wore an electro-shock collar that enabled him to reign in the bombast. All Them Witches is that and much more. The blues is well over a century old, and it’s still being creatively reimagined. Another big “suckit” to those who say rock is dead. Elektrohasch hasn’t released this, I’m guessing because the band hopes a label in their own country will express interest in it. Meanwhile you can download it from Bandcamp.
Wooden Shjips – Back To Land (Thrill Jockey)
I’m generally a sucker for spacey, repetitive, fuzzy psychedelic rock, but I was slow to get onboard with Wooden Shjips. Their first two albums on Holy Mountain, Wooden Shjips (2007) and Dos (2009) were decent but too self-consciously low-fi. Ripley Johnson’s other band, the sleeker Krautrock-influenced Moon Duo, clicked for me right away, and his experience with that project helped him focus more on the improved West (Thrill Jockey, 2011). Relocating from San Francisco to Portland, their fourth album sounds closer than ever to the motorik grooves of Moon Duo while maintaining some loose guitar solos and hypnotic Suicide/Loop/Spacemen 3 drones. Dreamy and addictive, good for repeat plays all afternoon.
Sahg – Delusions Of Grandeur (Indie)
Norwegian stoner metal band Sahg has followed a creative path somewhat similar to Sweden’s Grand Magus, at least on their first three albums. Starting out as extra hard stoner rockers, they evolved into doom, and then classic metal. Sahg has made another shift on their fourth album, with a more ambitious, glossy, progressive metal sound along the lines of recent Mastodon. Pretty much everything Sahg tackles has sounded like a natural evolution, and I’ve stayed onboard for every turn. Dropping the pattern of numerical titles of I (2006), II (2008) and III (2010), Delusions Of Grandeur is, appropriately enough, a concept album inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Ether” embodies both dense metal blasts and references to space rock timelords Hawkwind. Most impressive is album-closer “Sleeper’s Gate To The Galaxy,” 11:18 of evolution, time-changes and solos that neatly encapsulates all the progress Sahg has made the past 7 years.
Samsara Blues Experiment – Waiting For The Flood (Electric Magic/World In Sound)
German heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment return to longer form jams on their third album without leaving behind what they’ve learned about song structure and dynamics on their second album, Revelation & Mystery (2011). Even from the beginning on Long Distance Trip (2009) they didn’t just feature noodly stoner jams, but included more multidimensional progressive elements in tune with adventurous spiritual forefathers like Amon Düül II and experimenting with sitars, tambouras and synths. The four songs ranging from 10:38 to 13:32, like the cover art by Zdzislaw Bekinski, manage to be of warm, desolate, foreboding and beautiful all at once.
Black Capricorn - Born Under The Capricorn (Stone Stallion Rex/Voice of Azram)
The island of Sardinia, Italy sounds like a magical place with rolling sand dunes and stunning views of the Mediterranean sea. While the legendary Duna Jam is hosted there, it doesn’t seem the kind of place that would foster a sound so steeped in horror, drugs and dread. The men and women in Black Capricorn must sit in smoky basements and watch Hammer horror just as much as Electric Wizard does in grey old England. Their second album Born Under The Capricorn may not strive to smash boundaries of doom as much as rub them raw. The sound is satisfyingly rough, but not so blown out that you can’t distinguish the riffs. The longest track, the 16:44 “Born Under The Capricorn,” begins with a snippet of the melody of The Supremes’ Motown hit “You Keep Me Hangin On,” possibly a nod towards the prehistoric glacially slow grooves of proto-metal pioneers Vanilla Fudge, who covered the song in 1967. There’s more hooks and interesting psychedelic sound affects going on that keep the music engaging even on the longest tracks, and may be a good route for people who grew impatient with the latest Windhand. It’s definitely a huge leap of improvement from their self-titled debut from 2011.
Cave – Threace (Drag City)
One might think the interesting permutations of instrumental psych rock based on the motorik rhythms of German kosmische bands like Can and Neu! would be exhausted. Not so with Cave, who follow the tradition of Chicago based instrumental avant rock by having the highest standards of musicianship and artistic integrity. While the arrangements are deceptively lean and simple, they incorporate a lot of stuff, like Miles Davis‘ voodoo jazz fusion, 70s psych prog and even the staccato funk of The Meters, which makes me fondly recall the sole album from funky Chicago instrumentalist 5ive Style from 1995. The lack of vocals may limit their potential appeal in comparison to the like of Moon Duo or Wooden Shjips, with whom they just played at the Empty Bottle on Friday, but others won’t be able to get enough of this. Pick this up and their first two.
Fuzz – Fuzz (In The Red)
It seems that Ty Segall is kind of a big deal in some circles (SPIN). I’ve listened to most of his many albums, and they’re pretty solid indie garage psych. I think the acclaim may be rooted in his prolificness, much like Guided By Voices. I like that he tried to remain incognito in this project at first, sitting on the drum kit this time but still contributing vocals. The main attraction behind this generically named project, however, is the riffs and solos of guitarist Charles Moothart. On these eight songs he compresses the best parts of Blue Cheer, MC5, Amboy Dukes into nothing more or less than an extremely fun, party-rockin’ stoner garage-psych album. No further analysis or handwringing about originality needed. Fuzz out or fuzz off.
Russian Circles – Memorial (Sargent House)
The post-metal of Neurosis and Isis have inspired a shit-ton of bands over the years to the point where that sub-genre may have reached a creative saturation point. Heck, after a string of four consistently great albums since 2006, it seemed Russian Circles may have reached a peak with Empros (Sargent House, 2011). Impressively, they’ve managed to top it with Memorial, their most accomplished, exploratory diverse album yet. The bludgeoning quality of past work is tempered with more dynamic range, with moments that glean from symphonic black metal and glistening psychedelia, all performed in the service of maximum emotional weight that almost goes into doom-goth territory, or the likes of Alcest. Topping it off is guest vocalist Chelsea Wolfe playing the role of elfin ice queen on closing track “Memorial.” Rather than run out of ideas, Russian Circles may very spawn their own brood of acolytes.
Monster Magnet – Last Patrol (Napalm)
To some it may seem that Monster Magnet have been away for a while. The fact is that they’ve been touring constantly, and releasing a steady stream of albums. The problem is that while they are critically ignored or even pissed on in the U.S., they’re revered in Europe, and so have exclusively toured there the past decade. Despite the fact that their last several albums are actually not bad at all, just focusing on more hard rock, tenth album Last Patrol can be considered some sort of a comeback in that it hearkens back to the Hawkwind-inspired psychedelic space rock of their first three and best albums, Spine Of God (1991), Superjudge (1993) and Dopes To Infinity (1995). Also, Dave Wyndorf came back from near death in a drug overdose, but it’s been nearly half a decade since he’s been sober. Overall, Last Patrol does not hit the peaks of the early albums, but is at least as good as or better than Powertrip (1998). Like that album, it can feel a little long and repetitive, but overall 57 year-old Wyndorf’s sheer enthusiasm and energy shines through. He loves his drug music enough to do it stone sober, which is awesome. More importantly, they’re finally touring the U.S. for the first time in a decade, and I get to see them next weekend.
There were many more great albums released in October and November. Aqua Nebula Oscillator are a French psych band whose fourth album, Spiritus Mundi is either a completely entertaining trip through culty psychedlia, or for others can be offputting. Some of the whispered, spoken passages remind me of the weirder moments of German psych rockers Guru Guru. Who knew the French language could sound so damn creepy? Matt Elliott has been around a long time as a member of Flying Saucer Attack and Third Eye Foundation. Only Myocardial Infraction Can Break Your Heart (Ici D’ailleurs) is his sixth solo album in ten years, where he taps into the similarly melancholy folk noir as Nick Cave, Sixteen Horsepower and The Black Heart Procession. Moonbow is a laidback Kentucky-based supergroup of sorts with members of Hank 3, Afghan Whigs, Hermano and Valley Of The Sun. Their debut The End Of Time is fairly unadorned but well written hard rock with touches of stoner rock. Kyuss/Vista Chino’s John Garcia even wrote and sang on “Take It For Granted.” Another promising new hard rock band is Doublestone from Denmark, who’s debut Wingmakers (Levitation) has a little more emphasis on stoner doom. When bands like Interpol and the Editors haven’t sounded like post-punk for years, I can’t help but welcome Sweden’s The Exploding Boy, who I inexplicably have not heard until just before their released their fourth album, titled Four (Drakkar). They’re admittedly derivative, and they struck a better balance of influences of the early 80s, 00s and contemporary pop on The Black Album (2011), but for fans of this style, it should scratch that itch. It’s hard believe it’s been six years since Earthless‘ last album of longform guitar jams, Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky (2007). Since then leader/guitarist Isaiah Mitchell relocated to the Bay Area from San Diego and took part in numerous projects, including the amazing Golden Void. The new album From The Ages (Tee Pee) has edged closer to discrete songs (four of them), though you might forget that by the time the closing title track ends after 30:55.
I could go on much longer about more albums, but unfortunately I need to sleep and work. In a nutshell, there’s Movements (Swedish indie psych), Uzala (female lead doom), Funeral Circle (more doom), Seremonia (Finnish occult garage psych), Zodiac (German hard rockers touring with Monster Magnet), Solstice (return of British doom band after 15 years with an EP), Heavenly Beat (gorgeous poppy post-punk on Captured Tracks), Polvo (indie guitar rock second album into reunion), Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children Of The Knight, Monkey3, M.I.A. (fourth album isn’t as bad as critics say, though first two albums aren’t as great as they say either), Motörhead (a slight step up from the last dozen albums, get well Lemmy!), Teeth Of The Sea (avant rock, more inscrutable than ever), Pelican (solid Chicago post-metal), Paavoharju (Finnish avant folksters inexplicably go hip-hop) and The Dismemberment Plan (indie rockers’ reunion album, about as good as I could expect).