You know what? We’re through the first week of the Quarterly Review as of this post. Not too bad. I feel like it’s been smooth going so far to such a degree that I’m even thinking about adding an 11th day comprised purely of releases that came my way this week and will invariably come in next week too. Crazy, right? Bonus day QR. We’ll see if I get there, but I’m thinking about it. That alone should tell you something.
But let me not get ahead of myself. Day five commence.
Quarterly Review #41-50:
Howling Giant, Alteration
Let the story be that when the pandemic hit, Nashville’s Howling Giant took to the airwaves to provide comfort, character and a bit of ‘home’ — if one thinks of live performance as home — to their audience. With a steady schedule of various live streams on Twitch, some playing music, some playing D&D, the band engaged their listenership in a new and exciting way, finding a rare bright point in one of the darkest years of recent history. Alteration, a crisp four-song/20-minute EP, is born out of those streamed jams, with songs named by the band’s viewers/listeners — kudos to whoever came up with “Luring Alluring Rings” — and, being entirely instrumental from a band growing more and more focused on vocal arrangements, sound more like they’re on their way to being finished than are completely done. However, that’s also the point of the release, essentially to showcase unfinished works in progress that have emerged in a manner that nobody expected. It is another example from last year-plus that proves the persistence of creativity, and is all the more beautiful for that.
Rose City Band, Earth Trip
Vaguely lysergic, twanging with a non-chestbeating or jingoistic ’70s American singer-songwriter feel, Rose City Band‘s Earth Trip brings sentiment without bitterness in its songs, engaging as the title hints with nature in songs like “Silver Roses,” “In the Rain,” “Lonely Planes,” “Ramblin’ with the Day,” “Rabbit” and “Dawn Patrol.” An outlet for Ripley Johnson, also of Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo, the “band” isn’t so much in Rose City Band, but there is some collaboration — pedal steel here and there, as on “Ramblin’ with the Day” — though it’s very much Johnson‘s own craft and performance at the core of this eight-song set. This is the third Rose City Band long-player in three years, but quickly as it may have come about, the tracks never feel rushed — hushed, if anything — and Johnson effectively casts himself in among the organic throughout the proceedings, making the listener feel nothing if not welcome to join the ramble.
The Tazers, Dream Machine
Johannesburg, South Africa’s The Tazers are suited to a short-release format, as their Dream Machine EP shows, bringing together four tracks with psychedelic precociousness and garage rock attitude to spare, with just an edge of classic heavy to keep things grooving. Their latest work opens with its languid and lysergic title-track, which sets up the shove of “Go Away” and the shuffle in “Lonely Road” — both under three and a half minutes long, with nary a wasted second in them, despite sounding purposefully like tossoffs — and the latter skirts the line of coming undone, but doesn’t, of course, but in the meantime sets up the almost proto-New Wave in the early going on “Around Town,” only later to give way to the band’s most engaging melody and a deceptively patient, gentle finish, which considering some of the brashness in the earlier tracks is a surprise. A pleasant one, though, and not the first the three-piece have brought forth by the time they get to the end of Dream Machine‘s ultra-listenable 16-minute run.
Kavrila, Rituals III
Pressed in an ultra-limited edition of 34 tapes (the physical version also has a bonus track), Kavrila‘s Rituals III brings together about 16 minutes of heavy hardcore and post-hardcore, a thickened undertone giving something of a darker mood to the crunch of “Equality” as guitars are layered in subtly in a higher register, feeding into the urgency without competing with the drums or vocals. Opener “Sunday” works at more of a rush while “Longing” has more of a lurch at least to its outset before gradually elbowing its way into a more careening groove, but the bridge being built is between sludge and hardcore, and while the four-piece aren’t the first to build it, they do well here. If we’re picking highlights, closer “Elysium” has deft movement, intensity and atmosphere in kind, and still features a vocal rawness that pushes the emotional crux between the verses and choruses to make the transitions that much smoother. The ending fades out early behind those shouts, leaving the vocals stranded, calling out the song’s title into a stark emptiness.
Gateway, Flesh Reborn
Brutal rebirth. Robin Van Oyen is the lone figure behind Bruges, Belgium-based death-doom outfit Gateway, and Flesh Reborn is his first EP in three years. Marked out with guest guitar solos by M., the four-track/25-minute offering keeps its concentration on atmosphere as much as raw punishment, and while one would be correct to call it ‘extreme’ in its purpose and execution, its deathliest aspects aren’t just the growling vocals or periods of intense blast, but the wash of distortion that lays over the offering as a whole, from “Hel” through “Slumbering Crevasses,” the suitably twisting, later lurching “Rack Crawler” and the grandeur-in-filth 12-minute closing title-track, at which point the fullness of the consumption is revealed at last. Unbridled as it seems, this material is not without purpose and is not haphazard. It is the statement it intends to be, and its depths are shown to be significant as Van Oyen pulls you further down into them with each passing moment, finally leaving you there amid residual drone.
Admirably punk in its dexterity, Bala‘s debut album, Maleza, arrives as a nine-track pummelfest from the Spanish duo of guitarist/vocalist Anx and drummer/vocalist V., thickened with sludgy intent and aggression to spare. The starts and stops of opener “Agitar” provide a noise-rock-style opening that hints at the tonal push to come throughout “Hoy No” — the verse melody of which seems to reinvent The Bangles — while the subsequent “X” reaches into greater breadth, vocals layered effectively as a preface perhaps to the later grunge of “Riuais,” which arrives ahead of the swaggering riff and harsh sneer of “Bessie” the lumbering finale “Una Silva.” Whether brooding in “Quieres Entrar” or explosive in its shove in “Cien Obstaculos,” Maleza offers stage-style energy with clarity of vision and enough chaos to make the anger feel genuine. There’s apparently some hype behind Bala, and fair enough, but this is legitimately one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in 2021.
Tremor Ama, Beneath
French prog-fuzz five-piece Tremor Ama make a coherent and engaging debut with Beneath, a first full-length following up a 2017 self-titled EP release. Spacious guitar leads the way through the three-minute intro “Ab Initio” and into the subsequent “Green Fire,” giving a patient launch to the outing, the ensuing four songs of which grow shorter as they go behind that nine-minute “Green Fire” stretch. There’s room for ambience and intensity both in centerpiece “Eclipse,” with vocals echoing out over the building second half, and both “Mirrors” and “Grey” offer their moments of surge as well, the latter tapping into a roll that should have fans of Forming the Void nodding both to the groove and in general approval. Effectively tipping the balance in their sound over the course of the album as a whole, Tremor Ama showcase an all-the-more thoughtful approach in this debut, and at 30 minutes, they still get out well ahead of feeling overly indulgent or losing sight of their overarching mission.
The Crooked Whispers, Dead Moon Night
Delivered on multiple formats including as a 12″ vinyl through Regain Records offshoot Helter Skelter Productions, the bleary cultistry of The Crooked Whispers‘ two-songer Dead Moon Night also finds the Los Angeles-based outfit recently picked up by Ripple Music. If it seems everybody wants a piece of The Crooked Whispers, that’s fair enough for the blend of murk, sludge and charred devil worship the foursome offer with “Hail Darkness” and the even more gruesome “Galaxy of Terror,” taking the garage-doom rawness of Uncle Acid and setting against a less Beatlesian backdrop, trading pop hooks for classic doom riffing on the second track, flourishing in its misery as it is. At just 11 minutes long — that’s less than a minute for each inch of the vinyl! — Dead Moon Night is a grim forecast of things to come for the band’s deathly revelry, already showcased too on last year’s debut, Satanic Whispers (review here).
No Stone, Road into the Darkness
Schooled, oldschool doom rock for denim-clad heads as foggy as the distortion they present, No Stone‘s debut album, Road into the Darkness, sounds like they already got there. The Rosario, Argentina, trio tap into some Uncle Acid-style garage doom vibes on “The Frayed Endings,” but the crash is harder, and the later 10-minute title-track delves deeper into psychedelia and grunge in kind, resulting in an overarching spirit that’s too weird to be anything but individual, however mmuch it might still firmly reside within the tenets of “cult.” If you were the type to chase down a patch, you might want to chase down a No Stone patch, as “Devil Behind” makes its barebones production feel like an aesthetic choice to offset the boogie to come in “Shadow No More,” and from post-intro opener “Bewitched” to the long fade of “The Sky is Burning,” No Stone balance atmosphere and songcraft in such a way as to herald future progress along this morose path. Maybe they are just getting on the road into the darkness, but they seem to be bringing that darkness with them on the way.
Firefriend, Dead Icons
Dead Icons is the sixth full-length from Brazilian psychedelic outfit Firefriend, and throughout its 10 songs and 44 minutes, the band proffer marked shoegaze-style chill and a sense of space, fuzzy and molten in “Hexagonal Mess,” more desert-hued in “Spin,” jangly and out for a march on “Ongoing Crash.” “Home or Exile” takes on that question with due reach, and “Waves” caps with organ alongside the languid guitar, but moments like “Tomorrow” are singular and gorgeous, and though “Three Dimensional Sound Glitch” and “666 Fifth Avenue” border on playful, there’s an overarching melancholy to the flow, as engaging as it is. In its longest pieces — “Tomorrow” (6:05) and “One Thousand Miles High” (5:08) — the “extra” time is well spent in extending the trio’s reach, and while it’s safe to assume that six self-recorded LPs later, Firefriend know what they want to do with their sound, that thing feels amorphous, fleeting, transient somehow here, like a moving target. That speaks to ongoing growth, and is just one of Dead Icons‘ many strengths.
Tags: Alteration, Argentina, Bala, Bala Maleza, Belgium, Beneath, Blues Funeral Recordings, Brazil, Bruges, California, Cardinal Fuzz Records, Century Media Records, Chaos Records, Creil, Dead Icons, Dead Moon Night, Dream Machine, Earth Trip, Firefriend, Firefriend Dead Icons, Flesh Reborn, France, Galicia, Gateway, Gateway Flesh Reborn, Germany, Hamburg, Helter Skelter Productions, Howling Giant, Howling Giant Alteration, Johannesburg, Kavrila, Kavrila Rituals III, Little Cloud Records, Los Angeles, Maleza, Nashville, No Stone, No Stone Road into the Darkness, Oregon, Portland, Rituals III, Road into the Darkness, Rosario, Rose City Band, Rose City Band Earth Trip, Ruidoteka Records, São Paulo, South Africa, Spain, Tennessee, The Chinaskian Conspiracy, The Crooked Whispers, The Crooked Whispers Dead Moon Night, The Tazers, The Tazers Dream Machine, Thrill Jockey Records, Tremor Ama, Tremor Ama Beneath, Unsigned bands