Category Archives: Psych Rock

Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate

Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate – Wovenhand has been just under the radar for years now, and it almost seems like they’re trying to keep it that way. Born out of a side project, the group has survived through its metamorphosis, playing with techniques and influences, doing more than enough to keep them interesting though perhaps too much to keep them recognizable. They’ve always had a dark side, and they’ve never shied away from glaring lyrical bravado, but with their newest release, they seem to have redesigned themselves once again, this time truly exposing the depth of their loud, tenebrous roots.

The band has, since the beginning, branded themselves as being unique, and Refractory Obdurate does much to further that image, diving deeper, getting darker and building up that facade of the weird but not inaccessible that gets a bit stronger with every Wovenhand release. This isn’t that inaccessible type of unique, though. It’s not off-putting to listen to, and it’s not so conceptual or self-involved that it can’t be approached by the casual music fan. Rather, it’s a synthesis - a heady, heavy, erratic coming together of influences and ideas that makes a product based in the familiar, but not quite like anything you can put your finger on.

None of this merging-of-worlds is completely new for frontman David Eugene Edwards, mind you. His long-lived earlier ensemble, 16 Horsepower, was known for their merging of brooding rock, thick folk and alt-country sounds. The comparison ends there, though, as Edwards’ obsession with tenacious genre-melting is almost eclipsed by the life this side-project has taken now. Seven albums in, Wovenhand has managed to reimagine themselves with every release such that there almost aren’t any apt comparisons between them and their contemporaries. Certainly other bands and artists have rebranded in similar fashions, but when it comes to the music itself, they have brought together just broad enough of a spectrum as to rightly be able to claim that few if any can do all of the things they do as well as they do.

Refractory Obdurate hones in on just a few of those things, playing with austere poetics and a bellowing, gut-churning sound that feels more in place with post-punk hard rock than anything the band has yet put out. Edwards adds in some not-too-subtle nods to his faith, framing it in the context of mortal folly and wrestling with the innate questions that always seem to float up in that wake of discrepancy between belief and capability. Underscoring that are a series of both organic and turbulent beats that play off of one another from song to song, building slowly and crashing all at once while thick guitar calls to mind the easier and more evident comparisons. Behind the utter bombast, though, the intricacies of Edwards’ natural-born obsession start to come through, with pan-global influences seeping their way into the most hidden recesses of the album; harmonics bleed out from the periphery. Slowly, and ever-so-carefully, the record sets itself up as a reminder that Wovenhand, comfortable enough to feel approachable, is still a force in its own right.

The backing of their own conviction seems to be more than enough for Wovenhand. They’ve known what they’re pulling from and what they’re innovating on since the project first came together. Self-determinate cries are usually a poor hallmark for the world outside, though. For anyone who has any doubt about this particular ensemble, pick up Refractory Obdurate and listen. Listen to it again. Listen until you either love it or loathe it – it’s only going to go in one of those two directions. Regardless of what side you fall on, it will be clear that this band, turbid and distant as their music is, is worth their own reckoning…8.5/10

 Obdurate Obscura

WTCHS: It’s Not a Curse, It’s a Cross!

WTCHS_CrossCurse

WTCHS: It’s Not a Curse, it’s a Cross! – Is it improper to look beyond an EP to the live show it represents? Not that It’s Not a Curse, It’s a Cross! is a bad release, it’s just a case of animals able to be animals only in the wild. WTCHS by now have quite a following in Hamilton, Ontario, for their doom-swamp live shows, all turbid with gnashing riffs, dynamic percussion that slave-drives the Salem parade along and vocals like Tom O’Bedlam howling in a sandstorm. Judging what I may from videos, the stage is certainly their natural habitat at this point, and I’m taking the EP as one would a travel pamphlet to a DMZ: quite informative, but incomplete without extrapolation.

There were a couple clues leading me to look beyond the wax release. For one thing, there’s the absolutely glowing live reviews of the group going around, and for another, there’s a weird but not unpleasant mash of misanthropic post-punk with Modest Mouse-type angularity (damn that word, but as Modest Mouse is the poster child for it, I’ll use it here). The opener ‘Young Girls’ is certainly the shaggy, moss-haired beast I keep reading about, all tectonic bass drum and the mad blizzard shrieks. But then there are moments in ‘Top Prize’ where the dissonance takes on a lighter feel, reminding me of mid-2000s indie acts like Bloc Party, or even Franz Ferdinand. Before fans crucify me – these are just fleeting moments. In fact, it’s a damned interesting spice to their type of aggression, these moments of levity, like flashes of human remembrance in a werewolf. But fear not, noise fiends: there’s always a return to chaotic terrain, as in the battling, twanging plucks of ‘Top Prize’ and the volcanic haze of closer ‘Nell’, probably the high point of the album for me. The spastic interludes where the riffs break and loop atop sliding yelps, these are sound injections.

For those wanting some breadth to go with their dreary post-punk jams, WTCHS are definitely a group to keep on your Twitter and Songkick. If nothing else, the sound reminds me of the witch-prophecy in MacBeth, a doom that falls surely as rain. Check out It’s Not a Curse and the slew of other excellent recordings on their bandcamp…8.1/10

Nell

Triptides: Colors

1920596_828259140522731_606622256_n

Triptides: Colors Triptides hails from Bloomington, Indiana – not the first place that comes to mind when listening to their latest EP, Colors, a six-track psychedelic symphony. Triptides consists of Glenn Brigman on vocals and guitar, Josh Menashe on bass and vocals and Josh Morrow on Drums. Colors is a substantial addition to the band’s discography, a set of shoegaze-infused tracks (it is also available on cassette tape, a relic of the past).

The first song and title track, ‘Colors’ kicks the EP off with hyper tempo and relentless drums. The vocals remain barely distinguishable throughout, and the song truly takes off when they submit completely to a tripped out bridge, full of feedback and reverberating echoes of Brigman’s guitar. ‘Destiny’ follows, a significantly slower song, reminiscent of the Flaming Lips circa At War With The Mystics. ‘Destiny’ may be the EP’s strongest song, and most indicative of Triptides sound – heavily ambient, a little rock and always a bit weird.

‘Throne of Stars’ continues the acid-washed sounds of its predecessor, a track of ambient psychedelia. Reverberating guitar riffs float over the steady drums, vocals carrying over the top like a cloud. A schizoid bass line rings throughout, the grounding force of the song as the vocals build in layers of echo and digital enhancement.

The EP’s fourth track, ‘Moonbeams’, earns its title with successful execution of ambient rock and shoegaze bliss. Drums hold their place in the song, but allows for the soaring bass and vocals to shine through, although like ‘Colors’ the vocals in this song are barely audible as words, but emerge more as an instrument itself.

The fifth track, ‘I Don’t Know’, steps away from the complacent ambience of the previous tracks and presents itself as a song of psychedelic rock purity. It begins with a lazy bass line and shiny guitar riff. The layers of sounds within the track individualize it from the rest.

Colors concludes with ‘Lullabye’ another track in the style of the Flaming Lips. The vocals sing, “Summer time can get the best of you” a melancholic testament to the dangerously lazy days of summertime. ‘Lullabye’ carries out like a lullaby, a sleepy track that speaks to the bittersweet sadness that comes with the end of summer, echoed by its place at the end of the EP.

Colors shows Triptides greatest strength: creating tracks that allow the listener to lose themselves within the music completely, to be fully submerged in the tripped-out ambient bliss of their music. A perfect selection for summer, Colors maintains this other-worldly sound throughout. It’s quiet beach rock, music to watch the stars or float down the coast…8/10

Lullabye

Walrus: Glam Returns

Walrus: Glam Returns – With Glam Returns, Walrus take their place among groups like Temples, who are quickly forming a solid forefront to today’s neo-psychedelia/bordering on dream-pop. The deceptively brief EP spans only four tracks, but with a good spread of moods, from Saturday morning dreaming to a dreary, Sunday morning, stay-at-home languor.

Opener ‘Banger’ rips space wide open on a surf-salvo of power chords and ranging vocals that sound like they’re whipping waves into submission. ‘Banger’ waxes and wanes back and forth between a drunken liveliness, and even more inebriated soft moments that recall Foxygen’s meandering monologues about minutiae. The vocals really shine on the second track, as it charts out aural territory like a cartographer at work, seemingly in preparation for the refrain, where the vocals then catapult above and beyond the moon. Really acrobatic stuff, and with an affecting sense of freedom in the created spaces. If you haven’t gotten the point, Walrus is quite spacious, though not “spacey”, per se.

The final number, ‘It’s No Myth to Me’, is an eight-minute doozy of an introspective ride that sums succinctly everything piquant about the group. The track’s first half adopts Walrus’ signature tone of wavering uncertainty, with a vocal lightness even more insubstantial than the genre’s used to nowadays. At times, the words dissolve so far into a vapor of echo that the syllables lose their gradations and meld into a single tone. Around the midpoint of ‘It’s No Myth to Me’, the song takes on the quality of a spirit animal’s speech to a vagrant conscious mind, putting forth distressing unanswerables like, “If everything you want was waiting there in front of you/and all you had to do was say/would you forget everything that would end up happening to you/or would you let it all go to waste”. The track descends into a second half of distorted, ripping, and annealing blues riffs, deeply satisfying after the album’s amorphousness.

Glam Returns is a varied psychedelic EP with lots of appeal for kite-flying weekends and irresponsible napping on the beach. Walrus definitely has the indeterminate feel of psychedelia down to a science; I’d just like to see them rip it more often, as in the second half of ‘It’s No Myth to Me.’ Definitely a group to keep tabs on…7.9/10

Bulash

Thee Oh Sees: Drop

Thee Oh Sees: Drop – There’s nothing more disappointing than digging through the discography of the artist whose flawless song is incessantly stuck in your head only to find that everything else they’ve written sounds like a slightly-worse version of their Trojan-Horse hit. Some call these bands one-hit wonders, but I think that term implies that the band has achieved a significant amount of success and their egos (and new producers who are probably renowned for their work with Foo Fighters) get the best of their expressive curiosity, whereas what I’m referring to is more an artistic negligence or closed-mindedness, or an inability to let go of the perfect formula for songwriting.

And then there’s San Francisco’s surrealist psych-power-pop quartet Thee Oh Sees, who manage to disgorge piles of fresh scuzz on the yearly, as John Dwyer’s distinctive insect-witch vocals and erratic spider-fingered guitar shreddings are the only common denominator throughout their busy history. With a trademark cartoonishness that often sees their albums borderline on twisted kids’ music, Thee Oh Sees have spent the past decade testing the boundaries of their idiosyncratic instrumentations, and have yet to breach their creative parameters or retrace their ever-wandering steps. Solidifying their status as Earls of the Eccentric, Dwyer and company let plunge their first record, Drop, since announcing a temporary ceasefire from the Sees choir, which is sort of like the cast bowing at the end of the first act. Like, half an hour after the end of the first act.

As a crash course to the brash force of Oh-Seechedelia, Drop condenses their past three albums into an eventful thirty minutes, recapturing specific moments that made the last few years so memorable. But from the perspective of a long-time Oh See devotee it’s hard to approach Drop as anything more than a glorified single with eight b-sides attached- and while each of ‘Penetrating Eye’s’ b-sides provide unmistakably Theematic elements of any Oh Sees release, they all seem like backup cuts that were recycled during the recording processes of LP’s eight, nine, and ten (subjective, of course, to your definition of “Thee Oh Sees”).

‘Penetrating Eye’ introduces the album’s impending paradoxical stoneristic energy as deceivingly boisterous, as the toe-cutting, thumb-busting single fills the role of Drop’s autonomous barn-burner impeccably. In a long tradition of strong openers, ‘Eye’ penetrates both ears and psyches, while earning sore-thumb status due to its being the only track on the album boasting Damaged Bug’s cosmic pulls. ‘Encrypted Bounce’ ensues, portraying the sweeping epic blue-ballser so keenly crafted on Carrion Crawler. Everything appears to be running smoothly until it becomes evident that ‘Bounce’ lacks the rising actions usually following the Dwyerly yelps and the ultimate blissful catharsis returning said proverbial balls to their natural hues, rendering the track’s plotline uneventfully flat.

Similarly, ‘Savage Victory’ isn’t all that it claims to be, as it flourishes in concept but lacks in execution. By now we’ve come to expect at least one explicit display of bizarre sounds from each Oh Sees release as if it was the endlessly-entertaining surprise at the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms, yet the monotonous bass and sputtering guitar Dwyerrhea of ‘Victory’ are less than a triumph and more of a gloomy combination of pseudo free-form jazz and drone. If anyone could find a way to make this odd combination work it would certainly be Thee Oh Sees, but like much of the rest of Drop, ‘Victory’ feels a bit hollow. Of course neither track is necessarily skippable, but at this point it almost feels as if the band is pulling the rug from beneath us, causing us to stumble onto another rug of slightly lesser quality.

The band’s OhSeeDee appears to kick in on the stripped-down ‘Put Some Reverb On My Brother’ which is neatly tailored with hearty acoustic guitar and prodding horns. ‘Reverb’ marks another creative peak on Drop, recalling the relative sparsity of Putrifiers later heard again in the quasi-regality of the schnoz-thumbing ‘King’s Nose.’ The ghost of Putrifiers lingers throughout Drop, yet these two tracks specifically embody its minimal tolerance for distortion so uncharacteristic of the forefathers of modern lo-fi.

As the album closes with the entirely less-daunting kid brother to Floating Coffin‘s ‘Minotaur,’ it begins to become clear why Dwyer suddenly put the provisional kibosh on Thee Oh Sees: simply put, they sound tired. Based on the rate at which they spew recordings, it may seem like a year could be enough time for them to replenish their creative juices, but considering Dwyer’s unfathomable creative outflow this century, now may be the time for a longer intermission. My initial response to Drop was that it sheds light on the band’s alternative blue-pill, Foo-Fighters-producer fate, as most of the tracks lack the progression expected from a Dwyer product. But taken in the context of a posthumous Record Store Day release, there seems to be no threat of repetition in the band’s unclear destiny, and Drop may provide just enough stimulation to please Sees fans for the indefinite future…7.9/10

Penetrating Eye