First Quarter Rundown

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My traditional 3-4 week break after the year-end summary turned into 3-4 months, due to a mix of day job deadlines, life events and a bit of an overdose on some of the music I had been listening to. A lot of doom and metal releases so far this year simply did not inspire me to write. At this point, however, I feel recharged after my Roadburn trip, and there are at least 15 albums I can wholeheartedly recommend.

1. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm Records)

drones-feelinI’ve been waiting for this album a long time. Not that I knew it was coming, but I’ve been craving a blend of garage noir and avant post-punk blues that’s challenging but also inviting and listenable. This Perth, Australia band has been around a while, since 1997, and their previous six albums are all consistently really good. But their latest just clicks with the missing piece and elevates them to a whole new level, one inhabited by revered artists like, say, Swans. However, while I have trouble making it through an entire Swans album, I’ve already listened to Feelin Kinda Free this year more times than I can count. The first single, “Taman Shud,” is full of surprising stop-start rhythms, and seethes with lefty political rage that hearkens back to the Angry Penguins, a 1940s movement that repudiated an early Australian nationalism. Those who were drawn to the five star reviews of Bowie’s final album Blackstar, but couldn’t quite connect with it’s admirable experiments with avant rock and jazz, really need to give The Drones a shot. “To Think I Once Loved You” measures up to the most tortured missives of peak Dirty Three and kicks the living shit out of anything Nick Cave has done this past decade. Overall it fizzes over with passion, invention and invective. This is without a doubt a serious contender for album of the year. Continue reading

Roadburn Recap

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I flew, took the wrong trains several times, rocked, ate, drank, slept, rocked some more, got lost some more, and had a great time at the 2016 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands.

It’s been a long road to Roadburn. I’d had my eye on the festival, which had humble beginnings in 1999, after it’s first truly impressive lineup in 2006, which included Hawkwind, Colour Haze, Witchcraft, Ufomammut, Solace, Leafhound, The Heads, The Bevis Frond, Toner Low and Brant Bjork. A fairly diverse group of stoner and space rock, metal and doom, all linked by psychedelia. This was my tribe. Since then they’ve had Blue Cheer, Causa Sui, Guru Guru, Pharaoh Overlord, Circle, Siena Root, The Hidden Hand, The Devil’s Blood, Diagonal, SerpentCult, Baby Woodrose, Acid Mothers Guru, My Sleeping Karma, Graveyard, Motorpsycho, Dead Man, Amon Düül II, Zu, Rose Kemp, Saint Vitus, The Young Gods, Earth, US Christmas, Sons Of Otis, Ancestors, Troubled Horse, Samsara Blues Experiment, Comus, Pagan Altar, Los Natas, Astra, Horisont, Godflesh, Wovenhand, Blood Farmers, Naam, Swans, Candlemass, Wolf People, Ancestors, Spiders, Anekdoten, The Obsessed, 40 Watt Sun, Purson, Blues Pills, The Pretty Things, Kadavar, Goat, Witch Mountain, Elder, Wo Fat, The Cosmic Dead, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Golden Void, Bong, Beastmilk, Papir, Elephant9, Loop, Avatarium, SubRosa, Spidergawd, Death Penalty and Argus. Continue reading

Game Theory – Lolita Nation: 1987’s Lost Masterpiece

Lost masterpiece may sound like hyperbole, but I can back it up. While some have also called it the 80’s Forever Changes, I might not quite go that far. While Love’s baroque psych pop classic from 1967 was certainly under-appreciated at the time, pretty much anyone who loves that kind of music knew the album 20 years later. 29 years after the release of Lolita Nation, I don’t think the same can be said of Game Theory’s ambitious double album. Perhaps The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow is a more apt comparison.

Game Theory - Lolita Nation (Enigma/Omnivore, 1987)

So why was it lost? There’s all kinds of theories. In shopping for labels, the band were often told that Scott Miller’s fragile, wispy vocals, reminiscent of Alex Chilton from Sister Lovers-era Big Star, were unmarketable, as were their insistence in using keyboards and synths, which had recently fallen out of fashion. Yet they were not hugely out of step with popular jangle pop of the time by The Smiths and R.E.M. (with whom they shared producer Mitch Easter, starting with Real Nighttime (1985) and Big Shot Chronicles (1986).  While their albums were distributed by Enigma, which put a sticker on Lolita National that read, “Likely the strangest pop record of the ’80s…a double-album dreamscape through the world of Game Theory, a world of modern music at its most bonecrushingly psychotic and most achingly beautiful,” they were actually signed to Scott Vanderbilt’s Rational label. Enigma were simply unmotivated to put resources behind promoting the albums, focusing instead on the likes of The Smithereens, who had a minor hit with “Blood And Roses.” Continue reading

Fester’s Lucky 13: 2015 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best of 2015

Top 100 Albums of 2015 |  Spotify Mix | 2015 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

In years past, I often got outraged about albums that got critical conensus while other great ones were ignored. I’m passionate about the music I love and try to spread the word on, and can get a bit worked up. I’m feeling a bit more accepting this holiday season. While the diversity of what I cover has diminished somewhat in recent years, it’s also harder to piss me off about the stuff I care about getting ignored for Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Father John Misty. Continue reading

Fester’s Lucky 13: Post-Punk

As I finalize my year-end summary, here’s a teaser for one of my favorite genres. The recent trend of metal musicians getting involved in post-punk projects is a promising sign that the genre is done with suffering the indignities of going in and out of fashion. It simply is. While there were energetic supporters of all their albums, I was not taken with this year’s offerings from the older legends – Public Image Ltd., The Pop Group, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Fall and The Names. And while Killing Joke’s latest got plenty of acclaim, I felt that many (42, in fact) younger bands made better albums this year. While nothing got the critical acclaim the way Savages did two years ago, it was a great year for post-punk.

01. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)

Algiers - Algiers (Matador, 2015)While Algiers have post-punk elements like early Bad Seeds, they also dip into 70s psychedelic soul of The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, and further back into gospel, but laced with electronic drums that reference both 80s electro and 90s industrial. While early TV On The Radio took a somewhat similar approach with doo-wop and Massive Attack with dub and soul, Algiers sound completely original. On top of that, they have smart, confrontational, political lyrics and seem like a real passionate powerhouse live band, lately augmented by Bloc Party’s drummer, Matt Tong. The songwriting could be developed more, but their potential is massive. Part of the issue might be the fact that the band developed their music remotely online with singer Franklin James Fisher, originally from Atlanta, now located in New York and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan living in London. The best songs are clustered in the middle, including the savage “Blood,” accented with gutteral grunts and rattling chains. “Old Girl” is like stumbling upon a gospel revival, only to find dancing demons within the church. “Irony.Utility.Pretext,” augmented by a situationist style video, full of New Order beats, Art Of Noise effects, and Miami Vice era production, while still somehow sounding new. “Games” is a more restrained hymnal, and extremely effective. With a tour or two under their belts, I’d love to hear what they come up with next. I predict righteous greatness. Continue reading

Jess and the Ancient Ones – Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes (Svart)

Jess and the Ancient Ones - Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes (Svart, 2015)Kuopio, Finland’s Jess and the Ancient ones came out strong in 2012, picking up where The Devil’s Blood left off with a shimmering debut album of psych noir and driving metal guitars. Despite the growing popularity and attention drawn to similar bands like Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Blood Ceremony, Purson, The Oath and Lucifer  (covered in Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir), they have been somewhat under the radar. However, they’ve been fairly prolific, not only releasing EPs (Astral Sabbat, 2013 and Castaneda, 2014) that demonstrate a rapid artistic growth, five members of the band recorded two albums worth of songs written by lead guitarist Thomas Corpse as The Exploding Eyes Orchestra, earning respect from anyone paying attention. The second will be out next year. Continue reading

Metal Cans for the Holidaze – Fostex TH-X00

It’s Black Friday, and what’s more black than to buy a good pair of headphones for your favorite rocker or metalhead. Today the headphone audiophile community is buzzing about what may become a historic event in headphone history. Massdrop and Fostex have collaborated to create the best value in closed back headphones you can find today, with the Fostex TH-X00.

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This isn’t the first time Massdrop has collaborated with an audiophile headphone manufacturer. Will Bright, who participated in the Head-Fi forums since he was a teenager, is the head of Community Expansion at the San Francisco company, and initiated a collaboration with AKG to create a special version of their 65th anniversary limited edition of their K702, which was a big hit in 2012. The resulting AKG K7XX Massdrop Limited Edition Headphone was assigned an MSRP value of $650, but sold for only $200 with Massdrop, a pretty amazing deal. In this case, it sold in only a run of 150, but more drops have been scheduled due to popular demand. A similar collaboration happened recently with the Grace Design x Massdrop m9XX DAC/Amp, a simplified $500 version of an amp that normally sells for $2,000. Continue reading

The Last Roundup

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This is not about the 1929 movie where Denver Dixon of Bar-D Ranch tracked down former cowhand “Mile-Away” Hardy who set fire to the ranch, rustled the cattle and kidnapped the schoolmarm. But in a way these albums are kind of errant cattle or sheep that wandered off and need to be rounded up and accounted for.

It won’t be my final word on 2015 releases, of course. Year-end lists have just started trickling out, and will soon be piling out in an avalanche. I’ll typically struggle with the temptation to listen to another 400 albums. For my sanity, sleep schedule and health, I’ll try to keep it to a more manageable 50 or so this year. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve rated about 380 albums so far, and last year’s list has more than 750. Yikes! I realize no one cares what albums I think are the 700th best of the year. But I have to sort through the so-so ones to find the gems. Continue reading

Magic Circle – Journey Blind (20 Buck Spin)

Magic Circle - Journey (20 Buck Spin, 2015)It’s hard to believe that in just two weeks, year-end album lists will start rolling out. Anyone who covers hard rock and metal who’s working on their list now better have listened to Magic Circle’s second album, which isn’t officially out until Nov. 20th, or they will have no credibility in my book. It all comes down to a matter of taste, but Magic Circle hits that sweet spot where doom, rock ‘n’ roll and garage grit intersect. There’s a lot of bands that claim the same influences (Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Trouble, Pagan Altar, Hour Of 13), but none that celebrate them so thoroughly and convincingly, bejeweled goblets raised to the heavens, as Magic Circle. Continue reading

Progasms: A Progressive Rock Rundown

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Prog has come a long way since the seventies, when it was blamed for being responsible for everything that was wrong with music. Since then, many punks came out of the closet as fans of progressive rock, and its influence on post-punk has become clear in hindsight. While it remained a wallflower in the 80s, there have been a good number of bands that have been proudly flying the banner since the 90s. Traffic, Genesis and Rush are now in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, with Yes and Deep Purple likely to be inducted soon. Opeth, Mastodon, Enslaved, Katatonia and Anathema are all metal bands that have released progtastic albums, most of them in fact have likely fallen deep into the prog rabbit hole never to return to their roots. For many long-running bands like Rush, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, their roots are prog, with all three releasing proggy albums in recent years. Many more have explored a more seamless fusion of metal and prog, with large devoted audiences. Continue reading