Goat – Requiem (Sub Pop)

Goat - Requiem (Sub Pop, 2016)From their debut with World Music (2012), the mysterious Swedish cult collective Goat have remained anonymous, hidden behind masks and tall tales of their origins. A mix of psychedelic rock, Afrobeat and other folk music was a winning formula on their debut, which translated to a colorful, danceable live show. Commune (2014) attempted to fine tune their style into something darker and heavier, which worked at times. However they have the same issue that a seemingly very different artist, M.I.A. has, in that they rely too much on their magpie cultural cannibalism, and not enough on songwriting craft. Both artists have yet to make a consistently great album, and both are now floundering a bit.

On their third album Requiem, they revert to a more folk based sound that seems to be meant to be more celebratory than sinister, but is kind of a mess. At over 63 minutes it’s by far their longest album, and it feels like it, with a significant portion of meandering filler. Incorporating influences from the Master Magicians of Jajouka and Peruvian pan-pipes is all well and good, but they don’t really add value to the band’s repertoire. The Eastern style percussion and melodies of “Try My Robe” are more successful, locking into one of the band’s more convincing grooves. Continuing the title theme of “Goatman,” “Goathead,” “Goatlord” and “Goatchild,” “Goatband” leads you to a pretty mesmerizing trance. However if you recognize the bassline from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” it’s hard not to be distracted. Guitars are used sparingly, with a nice solo near the end of “Alarms,” and at their heaviest on the appropriately titled “Goatfuzz.”

While it’s their least consistent album, there’s plenty here to enjoy for fans, and I don’t doubt they can still translate it to a captivating live show.

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Third Quarter Rundown

The massive batch of releases on September 30 marked the end of the third quarter with, perhaps not a bang, but rather the sound of an avalanche. Alas, 90% of those are destined to be landfill, and that’s perhaps the only bright side of the decline in physical media sales is it could probably fit in my backyard. But there’s plenty of great music to catch up on, with a few key releases remaining before the entire music world goes list crazy starting around Thanksgiving. Some of these releases go back as far as February, but I hadn’t gotten around to writing anything about them. It’s a bit of housekeeping, as I start sorting out what my favorites are for my own end of year lists. Nothing here will likely make Fester’s Lucky 13 (I reviewed Truckfighters last week, which is a top 3 contender), but as always, there’s a lot more worth checking out. Upcoming releases from 40 Watt Sun, Syd Arthur and Wolf People are quite likely to be year-end contenders.

1. Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast)

Opeth - Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast, 2016)It seemed that with 2011’s Heritage and 2014’s Pale Communion, Opeth stopped being a metal band and went full-on prog. There were hints of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s proggy tendencies throughout the death metal pioneer’s career, including naming Blackwater Park (2001) after an obscure early 70s German folk psych prog band, and some of the progressive passages in Ghost Reveries (2005). Live, however, the band still manages to shift seamlessly between new and old songs, all the while sounding like Opeth, indicating there is continuity. Their third album in the prog series is the most immediately enjoyable, while perhaps not reaching quite the heights as Pale Communion. It also features some of the heaviest tracks since Watershed (2008), including “Sorceress,” featuring a lumbering proto-metal organ-driven crunch, and bookended by the fast and furious “Era.” The first half of “Chrysalis” rocks pretty hard, adding some space age synth effects straight out of Hawkwind. “The Wilde Flowers” is a highlight, operating within a wide dynamic range, from Zeppelin-like acoustica to a couple smoking solos worthy of Ritchie Blackmore of early 70s era Deep Purple. The acoustic “Will O The Wisp” is lovely and melodic, augmented by flute, bringing to mind some late period Jethro Tull, but also most likely their most universally accessible classic rock sound. The instrumental “The Seventh Sojourn” makes use of Middle Eastern chords and percussion, which sounds great, but seems like it would be more at home on a sprawling double album rather than taking up “5:29” worth of real estate on a single disc (not counting the bonus disc of the deluxe edition which includes two additional studio tracks and three live cuts). Perhaps my main complaint of much of Opeth’s prog era is their choices of influences. I know that Åkerfeldt has some gnarly psych prog in his collection, but major influences seem to be The Moody Blues, Camel and Genesis, three of my least favorite bands of the genre. Fortunately I prefer Opeth Mk II over most of the influences, like on the creepy occult vibe of “Strange Brew,” which features some haunting atmosphere with just bass and piano, and explosive yet complex moments that recall peak Yes. “A Fleeting Glance” is just a really smooth sounding showcase that highlights Åkerfeldt’s vocals at their best, and an airy, lovely arrangement, yet another reason why Sorceress is very likely to win over new fans than anything since Ghost Reveries. There’s no telling where Opeth will venture next, but they’re always a sure bet to be worth following. Continue reading

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Truckfighters – V (Century Media)

Truckfighters - V (Century Media, 2016)It’s no secret that Truckfighters is one of my very favorite bands. Their live performances provide everything I would want in a heavy rock show — intense energy, great musicianship, humor, volume, fuzz, riffs, and more fuzz. Their albums are no slouch too. While Kyuss are without a doubt the key innovators of the genre (desert/stoner/heavy psych rock, or as Truckfighters have branded, fuzz), and while Truckfighters may not be experimental or groundbreaking, they have fine tuned their style to absolute perfection on their five albums, and no small achievement. Not just in preparation for the new album, I often listen to their first four studio albums (and their recent live album), probably more than almost any other band, including Kyuss and Colour Haze. Taken as a whole or focused individually, they all still sound magnificent. Over a decade after their debut full-length, I haven’t grown tired of any of their music, which always transports me. Measured up against that body of work, their fifth album V doesn’t disappoint.

Truckfighters: A Study in FUZZA Study in FUZZ.

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Flagship Innovations Trickle Down to the beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro + Headphone Timeline

Most people balk at spending more than $20 on a pair of headphones, given the disposable history of a typical portable consumer headphones for the past 35 years. Music lovers who do invest in a full size set of over-the ear cans, 9 times out of 10 they’re terrible sounding Beats or average sounding Bose noise reduction headphones. When flagships are selling for over $1,000, and more frequently more than $3,000, it’s understandable that the audiophile world can seem inaccessible to anyone but the most fervent hobbyists, obsessed music fiends, industry professionals, or just plain rich assholes with too much disposable income. However nearly every brand with a pricey flagship offers other more affordable models that benefit from the research and technology that go into the flagships. Case in point, the latest offering from venerable German company beyerdynamic, the DT 1990 Pro, which makes use of the Tesla technology first introduced to their T1 flagship in 2011. Tesla refers to the relatively large amount of magnetic force in the driver mechanism of the headphone which renders it very sensitive, and therefore efficient. The DT 1990 Pro is arguably a more accurate reference headphone than the T1, and at $600, less than half the current price of the updated T1 ($1,399). I also simply enjoy seeing images of new flagships, because they are often great looking works of art, much like loudspeakers and bicycles.

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My love for headphones, as it is with many people, is rooted in a formative experience from my childhood. I grew up in an extended family of music lovers with pretty diverse record collections. However like a lot of sensible working class folks, they did not spend much money on fancy stereo systems. Well, my grandparents’ TV-record-player-shortwave-radio-bourbon-glass-storage combo might have been pricey for them back in the day, but it wasn’t exactly hi-fi. So the first time I put on my uncle’s full size Koss headphones (probably a 1974-76 model), I felt like I was in Oz when it flips to full color, or I’d fallen through the looking glass. I’d never heard music so intimately and with such detail before, and the experience played a big part in my becoming such an insatiable music fiend. Ironically my own headphone purchases started with an early cheap Sears knockoff of the Walkman, so basically the nadir of headphone history. It wasn’t until after college that I invested in a pair of Sony MDR-V6 to spare my housemates from my music late at night. Continue reading

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Reissues Rundown

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As the holiday gift-buying season approaches, reissues and box sets will be vying for consumer dollars. With the decline in physical album sales, I feared that only the most mainstream artists would receive the deluxe treatments that I’m sometimes a sucker for. There’s certainly no shortage of big names. For example, back in April Metallica reissued long-awaited remasters of their first three albums. However, no alternative options were given other than to get everything — four vinyl LPs, five to six CDs and a DVD, for the whopping price of nearly $140 each. If that seems a bit obnoxious for a band that owes their initial popularity to hardcore metalhead tape traders, well, it is. But if the market can sustain that kind of bloated pricing, that’s their perogative. Eventually (after the holidaze no doubt), more reasonable versions will become available. Other reissues include Lou Reed, The RCA & Arista Albums Collection (October 7, 17 CDs, $160), including nearly all his 70s and 80s albums which Reed himself remastered shortly before his death. Much more affordable are Otis ReddingLive At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings (October 21, 7 CDs, $49) and just out last week, Led Zeppelin, The Complete BBC Sessions (3 CDs, $19). There’s of course dozens more, from Nina Simone to Bruce Springsteen. However, the collections that excited me are from decidedly more obscure artists. Continue reading

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Drakkar Nowhere – Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

Drakkar Nowhere - Drakkar Nowhere (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond, 2016)Daniel Collás of Brooklyn’s funky pop soul Phenomenal Handclap Band and Morgan Phalen (Favored Nations, Diamond Nights) from Stockholm,  began collaborating four years ago, exploring more jazzy prog and psych. Now with help from guests like Dungen’s Mattias Gustavsson, their debut is here, and while there is still a link to their past associations with smooth pop sounds,  this is something altogether more trippy and cosmic. Their psych prog and soul hybrid reflects the different settings that this album was created in. After some time trading tapes across the ocean, the duo got together in Sweden and were inspired by the lush forests outside of Bagarmossen and Midsommarkransen. You can almost hear the sounds of the woods and see the stars in the sky in “In The Eye Of Time.” 

They did further recording in L.A., collaborating with 70s singer-songwriter Ned Doheny on “Higher Now,” which really expands on Gram Parson’s conception of cosmic American music, with ghostly organs, strutting bass and dreamy harmonies. First single “How Could That Be Why?” lures you in with a deceptively simple, funky beat, falsetto vocals and dueling analog space synths. The yearning chorus of “Did It Ever?” is another highlight that could easily be a single. The falsetto calisthetics in “The Line” make me think of Jeff Buckley had he hooked up with a much better band, with great songwriters to collaborate with and embark on a truly special musical spirit quest. “Salutations To The Sun” is a timely farewell to summer, just a couple days after the Autumn Equinox. The longest track on the album, it’s a bit of a jazz prog odyssey per Spinal Tap, but with some tasteful German kosmische in there as well. This is a really accomplished debut and bodes well for the future. While many call this a side project, I have a feeling this will become their main gig.

When I started discovering old somewhat overlooked albums by bands that bridged the worlds of 60s psychedelia and 70s prog several years ago (Flower Travellin’ Band, Stray, High Tide, T2, Gun, Night Sun, Blackwater Park, etc), I felt there was more more territory to explore. Luckily, a few musicians were also listening and agree (Motorpsycho, Electric Orange, Circle, Amplifier, Hypnos 69, Dungen, Fuzz Manta, Spirits Of The Dead, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Purson, Blood Ceremony, Wolf People, Baron, Syd Arthur, Messenger and more). Thank the fucking rock gods for that. Otherwise I don’t know, I’d have to be pretending to love the new Neurosis album today instead, or try to get back into black metal.

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Death Be Not Proud: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Wovenhand & Tau

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Just in time for the Autumn Equinox, a trio of albums were released on September 9 that deal with death and spirituality in varying but connected ways. While actual listening enjoyment can also vary, these are all pretty sophisticated treatments of the kind of music I featured 15 years ago on Grim Reapers & Haunted Melancholy: Music of Autumn.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds, 2016)I’ve been listening to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ latest, Skeleton Tree for a couple weeks, and it’s been pretty rough going. I can see why it’s held in high regard, as it is better than his last album. Despite the fact that the album was written before Cave’s family tragedy, the lyrics are eerily prescient of what happened with his son last year. That’s not a big surprise, since he often writes about death. Much of the recording was done after the fact, which explains why Cave sounds so shattered and aged. It seems I’m alone here, but I find such a stark, harrowing listen not all that desirable. It’s the same reason I feel David Bowie’s final album is hugely overrated. It’s understandable when people have a ghoulish fascination with music created in close proximity to death, but I don’t feel it automatically increases the intrinsic value to the listening experience. It makes me nostalgic for Cave’s more exuberant, swaggering work with Grinderman and on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008), and of course his late 80’s peak with Your Funeral … My Trial (1986) and Tender Prey (1988) where he sounds like he’s having drinks and swapping jokes with Death rather than being crushed by it. “Jesus Alone,” “Girl In Amber” and “I Need You” are certainly moving, but if I were to experience tragedy on a similar level, I would not turn to this for solace. Those looking for more punishment can go to the theater and see a behind the scenes viewpoint of the creation of the album in the black and white art film “One More Time With Feeling” with some commentary from Cave. While most everything that comes out of Cave’s mouth is intelligent and insightful, that doesn’t mean his last movie, “20,000 Days on Earth” (2014) wasn’t soul-crushingly dull and pretentious. I’ll skip the movie, and file the album away to admire at a distance and probably wait a couple years to revisit. Continue reading

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Live Album Rundown

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In the 1970s golden era of live albums, they had a pretty big impact on bands’ careers. After toiling in relative obscurity for their first three albums, the careers of both KISS (Alive!, 1975) and Cheap Trick (At Budokan, 1979) exploded into massive mainstream popularity with their hit live albums. One of the reasons was that both bands had trouble translating the volume and excitement of their sound to their studio albums. Other bands were arguably more successful at getting a good studio sound (AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Scorpions, Judas Priest), but also all had popular live albums that sold well and served as sort of greatest hits at the time. While not nearly as popular, Hawkwind’s definitive album was the double live Space Ritual (1973). Perhaps inspired by the early success of Deep Purple’s Made In Japan (1972), nearly every rock band with a half decent stage show (other standouts include Humble Pie, Ted Nugent, Allman Brothers, Neil Young), did a live album, and some that didn’t. The Grateful Dead’s Live/Dead (1969) was so successful that the band’s following recorded every concert they ever played and had an entire subculture economy based on trading bootlegs. Continue reading

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Bonus Psych: Morgan Delt, The Winstons, Sir Robin & The Longbowmen + More

A few psych releases managed to fly under my radar this past summer. Who am I kidding, there are probably dozens of worthy albums that I miss out on throughout the world. Anyway, here’s a few more albums worthy of your consideration that did not get originally mentioned in Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side. Before I play catch-up, there is an album that came out Friday.

Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt (Sub Pop, 2016)

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Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side

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Last year, Tame Impala and Jacco Gardner set the tone for the psychedelic summer with a fairly upbeat mix of electro psych and bucolic pop. It’s fitting with all the horrendous murder sprees and ugly politics that this year’s crop would be darker and dirtier. Lola Colt, reviewed here, put out an album that rivals The Drones for album of the year so far, a benchmark in psych noir.  Heading the rest of the crop are some garage noir bands, Os Noctàmbulos, Night Beats, The Mystery Lights and The Murlocs. Continue reading

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