Happy Record Store Day

PrintToday is the 7th annual Record Store Day, celebrated now worldwide. It’s overall a good thing, a little financial boost for a declining market, and I have been an enthusiastic supporter. However, a couple aspects have become a focus that will hurt it in the long run. Let the rant commence.

It goes without saying that for me, at least a couple days a week for much of my life have been record store day. But it’s pointless to address that, as things are what they are. Record Store Day is meant to draw in customers who don’t come so regularly. So the growing list of limited special edition vinyl releases that people line up to buy and mostly flip on eBay hours later may be a necessary evil. I can’t really fault the stores and labels for selling that stuff. Or maybe I can, but that was addressed better by Quietus. Continue reading

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Winter Album Rundown

The first few months of the year are usually fairly slow for new releases, as people recover from year-end music binges and catch up on what was missed, or just relax and enjoy favorites from the past. I often dig into rediscovering old albums. Last year it was post-punk, and this year it’s psych prog, which I’m still working on. Mostly I wallowed in the misery of the worst winter in recorded history, probably since the ice age, and listened to an unusually large batch of new heavy music. Despite the Spring Equinox having passed, we’re still getting repeatedly kicked in the head with sub-20 degree temperatures and frequent snow. Here’s a rundown of albums that made it somewhat bearable.

So far there are at least two year-end top ten contenders that were released this year, Truckfighters’ Universe (Fuzzomania) and Slough Feg’s Digital Resistance (Metal Blade), both of which I gave full reviews of. Here’s some others.

The Oath - The Oath (Rise Above, 2014)The Oath – The Oath (Rise Above)
Rise Above is on a tear, having released the best batch of albums this past year of any label large or small. Their winning streak continues with a band that snakes around the edges of genres, citing a diverse range of influences, from Sabbath, Trouble, Angel Witch, the Stooges, Poison Idea, to Mercyful Fate and Danzig. Mixing doom, occult, psych and traditional metal is nothing new, especially on the Rise Above roster, but there’s always room for new good bands with great songwriting equally inspired by Heart and Fleetwood Mac. From the press coverage so far, you’d think The Oath were a duo, consisting of guitarist Linnéa Olsson, who moved from Stockholm to Berlin for fresh inspiration, and met vocalist Johanna Sardonis. Their are certainly striking on the album cover and promo shots, looking like witchy blonde sisters clad head to toe in skintight leather. Lurking in the background are Simon Bouteloup (bass, Kadavar/ex-Aqua Nebula Oscillator) and Andrew Prestidge (Angel Witch/Winters) . Whether they’re just hired hands or gel into a true band remains to be seen, but the debut album is extremely promising. More than promising, I’m lovin the shit out of it.

Motorpsych - Behind The Sun (Rune Grammofon, 2014)Motorpsycho – Behind The Sun (Rune Grammafon)
Norway’s venerable psych-prog institution Motorpsycho are just getting better with age, and more prolific than ever. When it’s become common for many bands to take 2-5 years between albums, Motorpsycho has been cranking them out, with 7 albums in the past 9 years, with remarkably consistent quality and ambition. The double The Death Defying Unicorn (2012) was one of their best, and while last year’s Still Life With Eggplant was less cohesive than usual, it still offered many highlights, featuring Reine Fiske of Swedish psych prog legends Dungen as practically a full-time member (check out the riffs on “Hell, Parts 1-3″). Great news for Dungen fans, Fiske’s guitar playing is featured on the majority of the new one too, and it’s a great one, emphasizing all of the band’s recent strengths, from pastoral prog to hard rocking stoner psych. Bent Sæther’s vocals are featured higher in the mix than usual, bringing to mind at times both Mercury Rev and Yes. “Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue),” “Ghost” and “The Promise” are some of the best songs they’ve done, with the rest of the album holding up with such strength many will find their own favorite highlights. A perfect introduction to this band’s huge catalog.

Demon Eye - Leave The Light (Soulseller/Megaforce, 2014)Demon Eye – Leave The Light (Soulseller)
Lately I can’t get enough of bands mixing early 70s proto-metal with doom and NWOBHM, especially when done right by the likes of Brimstone Coven and Avatarium. The latest contender grew out of the classic rock tribute band Corvette Summer. While that is not such unusual, lead singer Erik Sugg’s dayjobs are. He’s a reference librarian who hosts a storytime for young kids. Mixing stories with his take on traditional children’s songs and his own music, Mr. Erik’s Rockin’ Storytime has expanded to kids’ parties, and he’ll even release a children’s record later in the year. Let’s hope some of the less cool parents don’t discover his adult nighttime job with Demon Eye, as the North Carolina folk may fear he’s indoctrinating their children with Satanic themes. I don’t think discovering this music at a tender age would be a bad thing for anyone. Maybe in a different world if more bands followed the Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pentagram and Maiden templates instead of Cream, Hendrix and Zep, I’d take bands like Demon Eye more for granted. In reality it’s hardly a path towards financial success and stardom. It’s a style inhabited by lifers who are compelled to take this path, we’re lucky to have ‘em.  Out already on Soulseller, it’ll be out in the U.S. on Megaforce/RED on April 15.

Papir - IIII (El Paraiso, 2014)Papir – Papir IIII (El Paraiso)
This Danish instrumental psychedelic project snuck in a fabulous third album just last year, III (El Paraiso) that hardly anyone noticed. They’ve quickly followed with a fourth, and sound better than ever. With extended guitar-oriented jams that incorporate jazzy improvisation along with rocked out crescendos inspired by Colour Haze, My Sleeping Karma, Electric Moon and especially labelmates Causa Sui, it’s a must have for fans of this particular approach to stoner/psych. Produced by Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk, it sounds incredible.

Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour (Clouds Hill, 2014)Gallon Drunk – The Soul Of The Hour (Clouds Hill)
Gallon Drunk have been perfecting their brand of garage noir, mixing Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (so impressively that Cave hired James Johnston as a Bad seed in 2004) with The Cramps and the Gun Club since 1988. And with The Flaming Stars being quiet of late, no one does it better. Quickly following up their last album, The Road Gets Darker From Here (2012), they pursue a more cinematic approach. They have dabbled in soundtrack work previously with Black Milk (1999), but the extended, hypnotic songs on this album feel far more substantial than most soundtracks. This is midnight music to get lost to.

Wedge - Wedge (Wedge, 2014)Wedge – Wedge (Wedge)
With cover art remarkably similar to Kadavar with the band sporting elaborate facial hair and groovy outfits, German psychedelic hard rockers Wedge do share similarities with Kadavar, but emphasize more 60s psych than 70s proto-metal.  I really don’t know much about the band, as their name is not exactly search-engine friendly. Time to just let the music speak!

The Socks - The Socks (Small Stone, 2014)The Socks – The Socks (Small Stone)
The latest from Small Stone is the debut from French dual-guitar rockers The Socks. At first I assumed they were the kind of generic stoner/psych that’s starting to become dime a dozen these days. However after a week’s rotation in my playlist, their songs stood out, ranging from dark and moody to some memorable hooky riffery. Yes, there’s some similarities with Swedish bands like Graveyard and Troubled Horse, but The Socks hold their own.

Helms Alee - Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House, 2014)Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House)
This Seattle band’s second album Weatherhead (Hydra Head, 2011) was pretty interesting as a self-described sludge metal band that sounded like they had more than a little interest in noisy indie rock and post-hardcore.  Moving from the defunct Hydra Head to Sargent House, the new one is even better, triggering a jumble of impressions, from Rodan and Lungfish to Floor and the early Baroness EPs, it all comes together in a powerful, cohesive statement.

Bong - Stoner Rock (Ritual Productions, 2014)Bong – Stoner Rock (Ritual Productions)
Despite the somewhat generic name, UK’s Bong are pretty special, with a unique style of droning space rock that has more in common with some of the more experimental works by Boris, Melvins and Earth’s Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version (1993). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek titled fourth album is again a departure of the kind of retro rock one might associate with the name. On the other hand, certain heads would feel right at home listening to this in between hits from their 3-foot tall bongs.

Crippled Black Phoenix - White Light Generator (Provogue, 2014)Crippled Black Phoenix – White Light Generator (Provogue)
A fascinating followup to their double album, (Mankind) The Crafty Ape (2012). With no sonic evidence of their past links to Electric Wizard (via Justin Greaves) it’s no surprise that their proggy post-rock is hardly in vogue right now. For those unconcerned about those matters, this is highly recommended, adventurous rock.

Also Recommended:

  • Seun Kuti + Egypt 80 – A Long Way To The Beginning (Knitting Factory) – The younger son of Fela keeps alive the energy and fury of Egypt 80.
  • Real Estate – Atlas (Domino) – Great moody jangle pop along the lines of The Feelies and early Clientelle.
  • Cult Of Dom Keller - The Second Bardo (Cardinal Fuzz) – A quick follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut of dense psychedelia.
  • Pontiak – Innocence (Thrill Jockey) – Eighth album of challenging, heavy psychedelic rock from Virginia.
  • Kamchatka – The Search Goes On (Despotz) – Swedish heavy stoner/blues band’s fifth album.
  • Kosmischer Läufer - The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program: Volume Two – Great fake backstory, sounds convincingly like classic 70s German kosmische musik.
  • Maxïmo Park – Too Much Information (Domino) – Ridiculously underrated UK guitar rock, with a bit more electro this time around.
  • Morgue Of Saints – Monolith - Great instrumental stoner/doom from Canada.
  • Conan – Blood Eagle (Napalm) – Excellent heavy British doom.
  • Rainbows Are Free – Waves Ahead of the Ocean (Guestroom) – Accomplished stoner rock debut from Oklahoma band.
  • Wolfmother – New Crown – Surprise third album from Austrialian retro hard rockers released only on Bandcamp. Rawer, better than Cosmic Egg (2009).
  • Horseback - Piedmont Apocrypha (Three Lobed) – Arty heavy psych/doom/blues.

I could go on and on with releases from Lizardia, Eagulls, Child, Kult Of The Wizard, Major Kong, Wounded Kings, Mount Salem, Grand Magus, Slomatics, Temples, Wild Beasts, Carla Bozulich, Neneh Cherry, St. Vincent, Dark Forest, Sammal, Tinariwen, The Movements, Moon Coven, Mark McGuire, Dead Rider, Goya, Milagres, Woodsman, Morbus Chron, Gazpacho, Marissa Nadler, Radar Men From The Moon, Elbow and The Cosmic Dead. Not a band start to the year!

Coming up:

Monolord – Empress Rising (Easy Rider) Apr 1 (Awesome Swedish stoner doom building on legacy of Sleep and Electric Wizard!) http://monolord.bandcamp.com/
Pilgrim – II: Void Worship (Metal Blade) Apr 1 (Everyone knows this, highly anticipated doom)
Bigelf – Into The Maelstrom (InsideOut) Apr 1
With Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) on drums, older albums were a little cheesy arena progtastic for me at first, but they’ve grown on me, and this one is more pyschedelic, by far their best.
Agusa – Uti Vår Hage (Transubstans) Apr 2 (Seventies style Swedish prog via Kebnakajse, Amon Duul II and Colosseum.)
Satyress – Dark Fortunes Apr 8 (Satyress have that great mix of occult proto-metal, psych, doom and NWOBHM.) http://satyress.bandcamp.com/
Sir Admiral Cloudsley Shovell – Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em (Rise Above) Apr 14 (Influenced by Groundhogs, Stray, Sir Lord Baltimore, Buffalo, with some raucous sloppy energy)
Floor – Oblation (Season Of Mist) Apr 25 (Those who like the old albums and Torche know what to expect)
Abramis Brama – Enkel Biljett (Transubstans) May 2 (Solid Swedish hard rock)
The Golden Grass – The Golden Grass (Svart) May 9 (Jammy psychedelic proto-metal, sound European but actually from Brooklyn. Check out their album art)
Greenleaf – Trails & Passes (Small Stone) May 13 (Guys from Dozer with rotating vocalists from Lowrider and Truckfighters, handled now by Arvid Jonsson) http://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/trails-and-passes
Castle – Under Siege (Prosthetic) May 20 (Like Satyress, Castle reside in a sweet spot between Witch Mountain’s bluesy doom and rockin’ Christian Mistress. I can’t wait for this!)
Wo Fat – The Conjuring (Small Stone) Jun 17 (One of my all-time favorite psychedelic stoner-doom bands. I already pre-ordered via https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/the-conjuring)

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Slough Feg – Digital Resistance (Metal Blade, 2014)

Slough Feg - Digital Resistance (Metal Blade, 2014)It’s been nearly four years since Slough Feg’s last release, Animal Spirits (2010, Profound Lore), but the band’s status has continued to grow, thanks to their reputation as incredible live performers, and a back catalog of eight albums that’s the cream of the crop of traditional metal from the past 15 years. Early last year they signed to Metal Blade, joining the likes of In Solitude and his old band Hammers Of Misfortune, and re-releasing their classic 2nd-4th albums. While leader Mike Scalzi can come off as a curmudgeon in interviews and his blog pieces, trash-talking the current metal scene and even old heroes Iron Maiden, it’s what one should expect when you poke the bear and interrupt his listening session with old Yes and Pretty Things albums. Continue reading

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Truckfighters – Universe (Fuzzomania, 2014)

Truckfighters - Universe (Fuzzorama, 2014)TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS!!! Yeah, I’m a fan. It’s been a gradual process. When the band formed over 13 years ago, they were the newcomers to the vibrant stoner/fuzz/desert rock scene in Sweden, with bands like Dozer, Lowrider, Terra Firma, Mammoth Volume and Sgt. Sunshine. While Truckfighters shared a love of Kyuss with most of those bands, their sound also had hints of a variety of psych, prog and even alt rock influences like Soundgarden and Nirvana. By the time they released their third album Mania in 2009, they had perfected their signature sound, a perfect balance of primitive heavy riffing and ambitious, progressive song structures. It’s been a long time since that album, but they kept busy, filming a documentary and becoming one of the hardest working bands in Sweden, touring the U.S. three times since 2011, when few other bands have done so (only Graveyard has kept a similar pace). Last summer I got to see them twice in one day, playing to criminally small audiences. Those who have seen them are treated to one of the best, most energetic live shows in rock. Singer/bassist Ozo (Oskar Cedermalm), with his moppety blonde hair, stature and voice, reminded me a bit of Kurt Cobain when Nirvana were touring Bleach with TAD. Back then, it could have been conceivable had Nirvana continued to pursue their Melvins, TAD and Sabbath influences that they could have developed along the lines of Truckfighters. But none of those bands had a Dango. What’s a Dango? Dango (Niklas Källgren) is their secret weapon, an overly caffeinated Captain Caveman armed with a mind-blowing arsenal of fuzzy guitar tones and brilliant riffs. After seeing them the first time, I bought the tour t-shirt that proclaimed them “Probably the best band in the world.” It may be tongue in cheek, but as far as a band that you can still see in a small club, I wear it without irony. Continue reading

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Hidden Masters & Wolf People: Psychedelia and Prog Moving Forward in the UK

Hidden Masters - Of This & Other Worlds (Rise Above/Metal Blade, 2013)Hidden Master, Of This & Other Worlds (Rise Above/Metal Blade, 2013)

Nearly a half century after the first psychedelic singles appeared in 1965, pretty much everyone has figured out that you don’t need the assistance of drugs to appreciate the music. You also don’t need a rare case of synesthesia to hear the vivid colors of psychedelic rock. Life is often psychedelic naturally, but music can intensify the acid greens, electric oranges and shimmering purples. Psych rock is more popular today than ever, and manifests in many forms, like long extended drones that, no matter how much they’re dressed up in avant garb, can dissolve into washes of gray. This is not a problem for Scottish (via Glasgow) trio Hidden Masters, whose songs maintain tight pop structures, stuffed to the rim with harmonies, hooks, concise solos and proggy time changes. The band displays such talent and musicianship along the lines of the Yardbirds and Cream (with singer/guitarist David Addison’s smooth lead vocals recalling Jack Bruce), but resist the temptation of extended jams, much like when Chas Chandler reigned in Jimi Hendrix to keep his songs short on his first album. Continue reading

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Fester’s Lucky 13: 2013 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best of 2013 (Derek Riggs)

Top 100 Albums of 2013 | 2013 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books, Comics, Beer

Fester’s Favorite Things

Aged bourbon on rocks and blood thickened warm Glog
Oysters on crackers and cheese stinking of bog
Spine crushing Black Sludge and green alien beings
These are a few of my favorite things

Iggy’s leather skin and Norse men’s silky hair
Ozzy’s blackened soul and Doom filled with despair
Barrel aged stouts and the devil’s black wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Lemmy’s hairy warts and trolls under mountains
Toxic Yeti farts and porter filled fountains
Headhunting Savages with feasts fit for kings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Gods smite
When Kanye sings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

2013 has been disorientating. I spent much of my time enjoying my favorite genres of heavy stoner/doom/psych rock and metal and post-punk, and going to rock and metal shows in small clubs. So far so good. I was also inundated with tabloidesque music news via websites, blogs, magazines, social media and FUSE News about the latest attention-getting antics of Miley, Kanye, Gaga, Kanye, Ferreira, Kanye, etc. It’s entertaining, but also a sign that the corporate media/PR machines are better than ever at focusing attention on a small handful of artist brands at the expense of more varied, in depth coverage. It’s cynical and not a little soulless, but it enables the majors to keep making money. It’s better than the decade-plus of whining they’ve subjected us to about how they can no longer afford ridiculous expense accounts. In the meantime, we can choose not to be spoonfed our culture like babies and make our own choices. The world is our oyster, and nearly every note ever recorded is practically at our fingertips.

Continue reading

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Autumn Album Rundown – Part 2

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, 2013)

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, 2013)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. Continue reading

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Between The Cracks Part 2 – Metro, Fingerprintz, Martha & The Muffins

between-the-cracksIn my original installment of “Between The Cracks”, nearly four years ago, I wrote about great bands that slipped between the cracks of glam, prog, art rock, metal and punk between 1973 and 1978. I covered 13 bands from that fertile period, with honorable mentions to a few others.

Deserving of attention are a few more bands who came up slightly later, releasing their debut albums between 1976 and 1980. Metro, Fingerprintz and Martha & the Muffins all had elements of prog, glam, art rock, power pop and post-punk, and could have been major players in the new wave era, but for various reasons commercial success eluded them. Despite their obscurity, the bands sound incredibly fresh and relevant today, as many current artists mine the same crossroads of post-punk and dance music those bands helped pioneer. Continue reading

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White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade (Downtown, 2013)Perpetually overlooked underdogs White Denim picked a tough time to release an album that should really push them to a new level. Self-absorbed model Sky Ferreira released her debut album that’s getting loads of media attention due to her topless cover art (which is clearly far from pornographic given how unflattering it is). Check out the endlessly rehashed Fuse News interview with John Norris where she talks about her recent drug arrest . . . while clearly blasted out of her skull on drugs! Or if you’re actually interested in music, don’t. Then there’s the massive hype surrounding the release of Arcade Fire’s double album Reflektor. It’s understandable, as they are a big mainstream Grammy award-winning band. I’ve always given an honest effort to get into them, buying their debut Funeral the day it was released, and being greatly disappointed. Like Pearl Jam, every album has at least one very good song, with the rest varying between not great and not sucky. I saw Arcade Fire valiantly play an energetic set at 2005′s Lollapalooza in 100 degree heat dressed head-to-toe in funereal black, and they were really good. I’m not rooting against them, but the new album sounds like a murky mess. It’s understandable why they would employ LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy to help redefine their sound, but the result is not a little boring. If they were trying to pull a Kid A, I’ll call it a valiant failure. Listening to it three times all the way through involved a lot of waiting for the occasional interesting bits, but no real listening pleasure. But the outrageously slavering, fawning reviews by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and even The Quietus are extra annoying when, for example, RS gives White Denim’s latest a short, patronizing review that dismisses their songwriting abilities. Continue reading

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Noctum – Final Sacrifice

Noctum - Final Sacrifice (Metal Blade, 2013)It’s no mistake that Noctum’s Final Sacrifice is released Halloween week. The album consists of a loosely coherent horror tale that perfectly fits the macabre holiday season. More bands should do this!

The Metal Blade label is on a roll with their third great Swedish hard rock/metal release in a month after Horisont’s Time Warriors and In Solitude’s Sister. Noctum first appeared in Uppsala, Sweden in 2009 as Séance. The next year they changed their name and released their debut, Séance, sporting 70′s proto-metal and doom influences like Pentagram and contemporaries Witchcraft, from whom they got their new drummer Fredrik Jansson (also a veteran of Count Raven and Abramis Brama). Their sound has evolved on their second album with David Indelöf expanding his vocals to a higher range, and inserting speedier guitar riffs, going with a decidedly more heavier, darker metal direction than countrymen Witchcraft and Graveyard. Continue reading

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