Sleeping Village Reviews

If you’ve been keeping up with me on social media, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been a lot more active and promoting another blog. Over the past few weeks, I’ve joined the cabal of drowsy scribes over at Sleeping Village Reviews, a blog that specializes in underground metal music and pretty much anything that qualifies as heavy. I mentioned in my “by the numbers” post for 2019 that heavy music makes up a majority of what I listen to. Since I try to cover a wide range here, a lot of stuff that I’d like to review goes unmentioned. Contributing to Sleeping Village will help to balance out the ratios of what’s heard and what’s written. I’ve already written four reviews for the Village, below you’ll find excerpts and links to all four. And please, spend some time browsing around the Sleeping Village in general. There are many talented writers, and if heavy music is your thing, you’re bound to find something you’ll like.

APF Records

DESERT STORM – OMENS–One of the things that initially drew me to doom metal and stoner rock was the way that the music complemented the aesthetics of one of my favorite sci-fi subgenres: the post-apocalypse. Something about the dark tone of the lyrics and sludgy riffs calls to mind images of blighted landscapes, lone wanderers, lawless lands, and road warriors. It’s especially gratifying when the artists recognize this correlation themselves, look no further than Truckfighters’ “Desert Cruiser” or Wo Fat’s “Lost Highway.” The UK’s Desert Storm also recognize this correlation and lean into it. The music video for “Drifter” off their 2018 release Sentinels is comprised entirely of clips from Mad Max 2. This fascination with the end of days is still present on Omens, their newest release, but this time it’s through the lens of mystical medieval fantasy… Read More

New Heavy Sounds

BLACKLAB – ABYSS–If you told me at the beginning of the year that one of the best sludge metal albums I’d hear in 2020 would come from two Japanese girls… I’d lean in closer and ask you to tell me more. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, when women are involved in making hard rock and metal on the doomy side of things, it tends to be pretty damn good more often than not. Some of my favorite albums from the past couple of years have been from bands like Windhand, Castle, and Electric Citizen. And this year we’ve already had great albums from Konvent and Lucifer. Well, get ready to add BlackLab to the pile… Read More

Heavy Psych Sounds

THE SONIC DAWN – ENTER THE MIRAGE–In the world of heavy psych-rock, the majority of influences often come from the rock bands of the ‘70s, and if we’re honest, the modern bands more resemble hard rock and early heavy metal. Ultimately, this is understandable; modern heavy psych likely comes from a desire to trace heavy music back to its roots, and the origin of heavy metal is often, though not without contention, considered to be Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut. As such, many of the sounds and aesthetics emulated in heavy psych come from the time period immediately before and after that key event. You rarely hear modern bands going for the sound of the true psychedelic rock of the mid-’60s, and that’s why The Sonic Dawn is different… Read More

Hausu Mountain

FIRE-TOOLZ – RAINBOW BRIDGE–I’m pulling something from the deep recesses of left field for you today. But when you’ve listened to as much music as I have, left field can provide welcome, refreshing, if sometimes puzzling breaks from the norm. (There’s a reason music critics praise experimental music so highly.) The harsh sounds of heavy metal’s more extreme sub-genres make them excellent sonic palettes for experimental artists. The best artists will recognize the similarities in different styles of music and bring them together, or they will contrast two very different genres that otherwise would never mix. The latter can be found in Fire-Toolz, who juxtaposes the clean, hazy, and nostalgic sounds of vaporwave with the harsh and oppressive sounds of black metal, noise, and other extreme genres… Read More

WHITE DENIM – WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM album review

WHITE DENIM – WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM

Radio Milk Records, 2020

Psychedelic rock/Garage rock

The COVID-19 outbreak has pretty much turned our world upside down. One area of the world that has been affected in more ways than some people might expect is the music industry. Look no further for proof of how the machinations of things we take for granted go far beyond what we might imagine. The most obvious impact is the broad cancellation of the majority of tours and festivals. This not only impacts the ticket holders, but the venues and the people who work behind the scenes. Many major artists have delayed the release of their new albums because they won’t be able to support the release with a tour. Others have delayed them because the actual means of production of physical units has been impacted. However some artists are using this as an opportunity to give us new music. Trivium didn’t delay the release of their latest album so people would have something to listen to. Charli XCX announced that she would write, record, and release an album in 5 weeks from isolation. And another artist that made a similar promise was White Denim.

On March 14th, White Denim announced that they would write, record, and release an album by April 17th. For those keeping score, that’s another entire album completed in about 5 weeks. The band met their goal and the album was made available to download from their label’s website on April 17th. For the rest of us, it was added to all major streaming services on May 8th. For those who don’t know, White Denim are a psychedelic garage rock band who often incorporate elements of progressive and math rock by way of dizzying guitar riffs. This unique brand of rock music has created songs that range from amazing to needlessly complicated to unremarkable. So where do the tracks on World As A Waiting Room fall?

First off, it’s worth mentioning that the fact that this album even exists after such a short writing and recording period is impressive. I know internet personalities have recorded stuff in shorter time as a bit of a gimmick (like Rob Scallon and Andrew Huang’s First of October project where they write and record an entire album in a single day). But the fact that this is a group of four people and that they had the additional challenge of doing this during quarantine makes this quite an accomplishment, regardless of the quality of what’s in the album. And the fact that it’s actually decent is even more impressive.

Yes, while it’s not a spectacular standout in White Denim’s discography, World As A Waiting Room is pretty good. Plenty of garage rock grooves and catchy hooks can be found in its nine tracks. A few standout track in particular are “Matter of Matter,” “DVD,” and “Eagle Wings” where some of the frantic energy of the band’s earlier material can be found. White Denim’s signature fuzzy guitars are all over the album as you’d expect with organs and synths adding extra color on several tracks like “I Don’t Understand Rock and Roll” and “Slow Death.” I guess a good way to describe the album is that it’s on-brand with the style that White Denim have established for themselves.

There are a couple glaring weaknesses of the album, however. The track “Work” is pretty light on lyrical content and is also the longest song on the album at over 6 minutes. This means the few lyrics it has are repeated quite a few times. The song does have a pretty solid groove that makes it mostly tolerable, but once you get past the 4-minute mark, it starts to wear on you. Then there’s “Queen of the Quarantine” and yes, they went there. I know it’s pretty much expected that they would write a song about the quarantine when the entire album was written in quarantine, but this one just comes across as little more than corny. There are a couple other instances of repetitive lyrics like in “Go Numb,” but the rest of the tracks are short enough to keep them from getting too annoying.

Overall, the best way to sum up the album is the way I did earlier. It’s very on-brand for White Denim, and it’s ultimately a pretty engaging listen. Their more recent output hasn’t been the most memorable to me, so I’m glad to say this one was to a degree. It does have it’s weak points, but when you consider the short amount of time that this entire album was made in, they’re pretty easily forgiven.

3.5/5.0

STURGILL SIMPSON – SOUND & FURY album review

STURGILL SIMPSON – SOUND & FURY

Elektra, 2019

Blues rock/Psychedelic rock

Sturgill Simpson is a country and Americana singer and songwriter who refuses to be put in a box and takes pride in being a rebel. At least that’s what one would think based on his releases and actions, like busking outside the CMA awards in Nashville with his Grammy award for Best Country Album by his side.

SOUND & FURY is Simpson’s fourth album, following up the album that won him the aforementioned Grammy, 2016’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. While that album bucked country music traditions in its own way with strings and horns pushing songs into the territory of soul and funk, SOUND & FURY pushes boundaries even further with a sound that’s more balls-out boogie rock and roll than outlaw country. In fact, the only thing tying the sound of this album to anything released before it is Simpson’s distinctive drawl.

Simpson has described this album as a “sleazy, steamy, rock ‘n’ roll album” and it certainly delivers on that front. The guitars constantly have fuzz or filtering effects on them, with occasional synths and organs fighting for elbow room in the mix. The result is a sound that conjures a lot of descriptions, but “clean” is never one of them. Simpson’s vocals are often doubled with other effects, adding another layer of grease. It’s as if they took the concept of the rough recordings of The Black Keys early work and cranked up the sonic qualities and change a dusty recording to a grimy, post-apocalyptic one.

While songs like “Sing Along” and “Best Clockmaker On Mars” are some of the finest examples of the sleazy rock and roll–the former having a super steady drumbeat and synth bass pushing things towards late ’80s ZZ Top–other influences appear as well. “A Good Look” (co-written with John Prine) leans heavily towards disco and, for some reason, I imagine “Mercury In Retrograde” wouldn’t feel out of place at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

Lyrically the album delivers on the “sleazy, steamy” side with innuendos in the lyrics of “Remember To Breathe” and “Last Man Standing.” Other lyrical themes range from more typical blues rock fare like snide remarks at a former lover on “Sing Along,” but the most prevalent is the loneliness and alienation that accompanies fame on the tracks “Make Art Not Friends,” “Mercury In Retrograde,” and “Best Clockmaker On Mars.” The latter of the three might even be a reference to Dr. Manhattan from the graphic novel Watchmen.

A few lyrics add to the post-apocalyptic feel of the album, and likely provide the inspiration for the visuals of the anime film that accompanies the album. The film was made in collaboration with artist Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai, Batman Ninja) and Junpei Mizusaki (Batman Ninja). The film is more or less in the same vein as Daft Punk and Leiji Matsumoto’s Interstella 5555, in that there is no dialogue. The film only serves as a long-form music video for the entire album. Unlike Interstella, SOUND & FURY is non-linear, and in some ways more artistic, with some segments integrating live actors and having little to do with the central narrative. The film is worth watching at least once to get the full experience.

My only criticism of the album is that it can be sonically exhausting at times. I mentioned before that the instruments are often fighting for space. It’s a stylistic choice that gives a sense of a massive rock sound, and further drives the dirty, post-apocalyptic image that Simpson and his band are trying to conjure. However, there is very little breathing room on the album, and you are bombarded with a wall of sound for the better part of 41 minutes. There are a few welcome respites at the beginning of “Make Art Not Friends” and the entire track “All Said and Done,” but it’s not quite enough. The former is also a little too busy and loud for the sentiment it’s trying to convey.

Overall, I think SOUND & FURY is a great album, and easily the best raw, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll album I’ve heard all year. My followers on Instagram know that I praised the single “Sing Along” when it came out, saying that Simpson made a better Black Keys song than the Black Keys have in years. And I doubled down on that stance when I heard the whole album. It’s a style of rock music that I feel has been lacking in recent years and I’m happy to have Simpson’s offering to show me that it’s not dead.

4.0/5.0