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)

Double Trouble: Double Albums Are Still A Thing!

There was once a time when double albums were kind of a big deal. Even established artists had to often fight with their labels to release double albums, because it meant more packaging, more expensive studio time, and ultimately less profit for the labels. It was an audacious move, to have the confidence and/or ego to think one could fill two LPs, usually more than an hour of music, with consistently great songs. Dylan, The Beatles and Hendrix weren’t the first to release double albums, but they definitely made a statement with over 1:13, 1:33 and 1:15 worth of pretty amazing music, respectively. Blonde On Blonde, The Beatles and Electric Ladyland continue to haunt the upper slots of all-time best of lists, and show no signs of going away. More major landmarks followed with Trout Mask Replica (1969), Third (1970), Tago Mago (1971), Something/Anything and Exile On Main St. (1972). Continue reading