[Art by Sean Metcalf]
The following is a list of albums that we found to be particularly engaging this year.
The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian]
After The War on Drugs released their debut LP, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008, lead Druggie Adam Granduciel retired to his Philly home to experiment with samples and recording techniques. Several years later, that process spawned Slave Ambient, which combines a distinctive blend of psychedelic Americana guitar rock with celestial ambient textures that flow throughout the album in a droning undercurrent. While many bands have struggled to bring their experimental side into the studio setting, The Drugs have done exactly that with Slave Ambient. On tracks like the sprawling ambient outro “The Animator,” this experimental side comes into full view and hints at the complexity involved in the sonic layering within these songs.
“Come To The City”
Woods – Sun & Shade [Woodsist]
With each new release, Woods continue to evolve and impress. As with 2009′s Songs of Shame and 2010′s At Echo Lake, the group continues their trajectory toward a more song-oriented approach on their sixth LP, while still encompassing their creep side through extended jams like the nod to Neu!’s Hallogallo, “Out of the Eye” and spiritual sound quests like “Sol y Sombra.” Lead singer Jeremy Earl’s falsetto tone sounds slightly more polished, however, his Shagg’s style guitar work is still delectably off-kilter. This release shows major step in the group’s songwriting abilities, with many of the songs ranking alongside their best.
“Any Other Day”
Pure X – Pleasure [Acephale]
The debut full length release from Austin’s Pure X has made a profound effect on me throughout the year. You know how, sometimes, upon first hearing an album, it forever reminds you of that period of time? Well, for me, that’s the case with this one and last Winter. I played it endlessly and with each listen I discovered something new. Every one of the stoned-out songs is a sprawling trip through through mimimalist, seemingly-nonexistent melodies that thrive on the textured reverb-drenched squalls of sound as well as singer Nate Grace’s nuanced vocal approach. It’s a listening experience that requires headphones and a ready mind.
Real Estate – Days [Domino]
On Real Estate’s sophomore LP, the New Jersey suburbanites move past the lo fi surf pop heard on their debut, into a territory that is decidedly their own. The combination of dueling guitars blend together like those of Verlaine and Lloyd on many songs like “Easy” and “Green Aisles,” while others show lead singer Martin Courtney’s progression as a songwriter highly capable of evoking images from one’s adolescent years. It’s an album everyone can like, and based on it’s recent success, it seems that most people do.
Quilt – S/T [Mexican Summer]
The debut LP from Boston’s Quilt is a recent discovery that quickly made its mark on my list of favorites. The group dabbles in a wide range of sounds that channel everyone from the Airplane to The Incredible String Band and other west coast 60s psych acts to Raga to British folk influences like The Pentangle and many others. Songs “Rabid Love” and “The Silver Stairs of Ketchikan” even recall a less eerie Woods, taking on a similar minimalist freak folk approach led by the choir-like vocals of Anna Fox Rochinski. The album, produced and engineered by Apollo Sunshine’s Jesse Gallagher, is the result of a series of extended experimental jams and free form songwriting. Many of the songs take on mantra-like form, with repetitive chants and Eastern melodies that guide the listener through dreamy, transcendent sound quests.
“Cowboys In The Void”
White Denim – D [Downtown]
On D, White Denim moves in a more progressive direction. The album’s complex arrangements and near-perfect vocal harmonies showcase the group’s impressive chops and their continually evolving songwriting approach. While D is certainly White Denim’s best effort to date, it only begins to hint at the potential they can still reach.
Gillian Welch – Harrow & The Harvest [Acony]
Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s highly anticipated new release finally made its way to our ears this year, proving that the wait was all worth while. The songs hearken back to a past time, keeping alive a style of music that has seemingly packed up and gone, while still sounding fresh and current.
“The Way It Goes”
Woodsman – Mystic Places [Fire Talk]
On Mystic Places (the only EP to make this list), Woodsman successfully capture their more experimental side with a series of organic, mostly instrumental, tunes that travel through loop-heavy drones and propulsive zoned-out drum beats. Combine all of that with VHS-ripped vocal segments and the group’s nack for kraut-inspired improv and you have one of the finest psych-rock releases of the year.
Twerps – S/T [Underwater Peoples]
The debut full-length release from Melbourne, Austrailia’s Twerps is a welcome extension to the wave of jangly, surf pop flooding onto the scene in recent years. Separating themselves from the pack with the raw, matter-of-fact lead vocals of frontman Marty Frawley, the group channels 80s Flying Nun artists like the Clean, while also nodding to 90s lo fi acts. It’s as though punk sensibilities have combined with those of the pop world to help this seemingly tossed-off effort sound so cohesive and compelling. Most of the album’s warm pop numbers are driven by treble-heavy, Tom Verlaine style guitar riffs and simple, catchy hooks (“Dreaming,” “This Guy,”), while others (“Bring Me Down”) strip all of that away, exposing a far more melancholic side of Twerps’ sound. Both sides come together with the anthemic final track “Coast to Coast,” where Frawley proclaims “The sun’s in my eye, and I’ve never felt so high,” a fair declaration to close out one of 2011’s finest efforts.
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo [Matador]
Smoke Ring for My Halo is Kurt Vile’s fourth and finest LP to date. On this one, the Philadelphia-native steps into a more polished zone, continuing to build upon his unique mix of twangy finger-picked ballads and fuzz-heavy guitar rock anthems.
Yellowbirds – The Color [Royal Potato Family]
The debut solo release from Apollo Sunshine’s Sam Cohen is a highly impressive effort from start to finish. Over the course of 11 tracks, Cohen guides us through a calming psychedelic journey that begins with the very first note of “The Rest of My Life.” Much of the album evokes a throwback 60′s psych sound, but with the addition of an arsenal of effects and an auto-harp, a fresh wave rushes through each song. Cohen’s approach to his solos shines a light on his Berkelee schooling, setting him in place among the top guitarists on the scene today.
“Our Good Days Are Gone”
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges [Constellation]
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is the second solo album from Montreal-based saxophone virtuoso Colin Stetson. Using mainly his saxophone, and recording many of the tracks live, Stetson builds lush soundscapes that recall the likes of nothing you’ve ever heard before. While many adventures of this type often come off as failed, free-form sonic experiments, New History is compelling and highly musical throughout.
Sun Araw – Ancient Romans [Drag City / Sun Ark]
Sun Araw’s double LP Ancient Romans, is probably the most accessible grouping of songs in the Los Angeles artist’s cannon. This one isn’t for everyone, but if you can wrap your head around the odd times and complex sound textures that guide this adventure, then you may discover the true genius behind the loop master’s art. Another one that rarely left the vicinity of my turntable this year.
Amen Dunes – Through Donkey Jaw [Sacred Bones]
Through Donkey Jaw is the second full-length release from Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes project. Meditative, hazy guitar lines and McMahon’s floaty vocals guide the songs through minimalist psych excursions. A highly transcendent listening experience.
Megafaun – S/T [Hometapes]
The fourth full length from Durham, NC’s Megafaun, largely explores the more rugged, American side of the their rural sound. While the self-titled album is largely accessible, it also leans toward their experimental side with tracks like “These Words” and “Serene Return.” One of the year’s most stunningly beautiful releases.
Peaking Lights – 936 [Not Not Fun]
Madison, Wisconsin’s Peaking Lights are a married couple who’s music sounds like Tom Tom Club on a boatload of acid. Infusing dub-style grooves with psychy sounds and effects, 936 is, simply put, a danceable astral adventure.
“All The Sun That Shines”
Tinariwen – Tasilli [Anti-]
Recorded in a remote section of the South Eastern Algerian desert, Tassili, Tinariwen’s fifth studio release, sets a different course than previous efforts. On the long player, the group strips down their sound—trading Stratocasters for acoustics, employing the use of un-amplified percussion—and, for the first time, invites a few notable outsiders to appear. Guests include Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, who ventured to the desert to record with the band, in addition to Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Returning to the their beginnings, Tassili recreates the origins of Tinariwen’s music—acoustic songs performed by an open fire, much like the refugee camps where they originated.
“Tenere Taqqim Tossam”
Panda Bear – Tomboy [Paw Tracks]
Four years after the release of the Noah Lennox’s groundbreaking album Person Pitch, came the release of the more conventional and structured effort Tomboy. Lennox continues to churn out blissful psychedelia with modern Brian Wilson-style vocal harmonies, although in a more simplistic fashion that shows a progression in his approach to sampling and looping techniques. Deserving of many listens.
Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread [Drag City]
On Goodbye Bread, Ty Segall steps into the singer-songwriter shoes with an album full of Lennon-esque vocals and crashing, fuzzed-out guitar riffs. Another great guitar-rock album from 2011.
“I Can’t Feel It”
Thee Oh Sees – Carrion Crawler/The Dream [In the Red]
At this point I’m pretty tired of writing about albums, but this one happens to be my favorite garage rock album, in a large sea of them, to come out of 2011. Let’s leave it at that.
Best New Release From The Past:
The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions
Best Live Releases:
Miles Davis – The Bootleg Series, Volume 1: Live in Europe 1967
Grateful Dead – Europe 72 Vol. II
Phish – Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97
Frank Zappa – Live at Carnegie Hall
The Paperhead – S/T
Middle Brother – S/T
The Barr Brothers – S/T [featured on last year's list]
The Feelies – Here Before
Wilco – The Whole Love
Bonnie Prince Billy – Wolfroy Goes To Town
MV & EE – Country Stash
Bon Iver – S/T
Beyondo – Free The Twin
Ducktails – Aracade Dynamics III
Stephen Malkmus- Mirror Traffic
Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
Julian Lynch – Terra
Rangers – Pan Am Stories
Wooden Shjips – West
We’re honored to present a second playlist from our favorite radio DJ, Mike Newman. You can hear plenty more of these great tunes, along with his unrivaled knowledge about them, on BBOX Radio every Wednesday from 12-2PM or on his show Beyond Beyond is Beyond at East Village Radio on Thursdays, also from 12-2PM. In addition, this busy man will also DJ our December 30 event at the Cakeshop under the alias Unicorn Pudding, while also putting out his own psych rock compilation in early 2012. Here are some words from Mike to lead you into the music…
Hey there, I was super-psyched DGB asked me back to do another playlist…especially a proggy one! So I chose some of my favorite prog-rock tunes and before I knew it, I had three hours worth of musically-decadent delightfulness. So strap yourself in and enjoy all the peaks and valleys and changes and effects and organs and sublime bizarreness, as we enter the prog zone…
01. Yes – Sound Chaser
02. Caravan – In The Land Of Gray And Pink
03. Jethro Tull – …And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps
04. Made In Sweden – Winter’s A Bummer
05. Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Tarkus
06. Bo Hansson – Lothlorien
07. King Crimson – Happy Family
08. Sensations’ Fix – Fragments of Light
09. Man – Many Are Called, But Few Get Up
10. Secret Oyster – Oysterjungle
11. Magma – Udu Wudu
12. Jon Anderson – Flight Of The Moorglade
13. Nektar – Astral Man
14. Pancake – Cakey Funk
15. Hatfield And The North – Shaving Is Boring
16. Genesis – Watcher Of The Skies
17. Fruupp – Jaunting Car
18. Focus – Janis
19. Eloy – Floating
20. Gentle Giant – The Advent Of Panurge
21. Camel – Aristillus
22. Cressida – Asylum
23. Happy The Man – Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo
24. Van Der Graaf Generator – House With No Door
25. Triumvirat – The Walls Of Doom
26. T2 – In Circles
27. If – Sector 17
28. Khan – Stargazers
29. Soft Machine – Out-Bloody-Rageous
For the past 13 years, percussionist Craig Myers has been exploring the world of West African music, venturing to places like Mali, Senegal, Guinea and The Ivory Coast in search of his sound. Performing on a traditional African West instrument called the Kamel N’goni, Myers plays with Afro-inspired Brooklyn band Rubblebucket, as well as in Phish bass player Mike Gordon’s solo group. But recently, the percussion virtuoso has also turned his attention to a new seven-piece ensemble called Barika (pronounced body-kah), hailing from Burlington, VT. Inspired by the sounds of Mali’s Wassoulou region, the groups churns out psychy poly-rhythmic afro-grooves driven by Myers playing on the Kamel N’goni. It is difficult to describe the otherworldly sounds Myers conjures from the traditional African harp, but, at times, it sounds as though he has an entire African tribe playing along with him. Remember, the group’s debut album and the result of two-years of experiments and recording sessions, is now available from their website.
[Photo by Greg Abramowitz]
From The Barr Brothers:
“Hey everyone, here’s a little gift from The Barr Brothers. Back home from tour, we went down to our friend Patrick Watson’s studio and recorded our holiday jingle, entitled “Dear Mrs. Claus”. We felt Mrs. Claus really needed a Christmas song dedicated to her. Enjoy!”
As many of you already know, last Tuesday, the Phish vaults opened, unearthing for the first time a series of high quality recordings that rank among the greatest treasures in the Vermont quartet’s live catalog. Say what you will about Phish, but until you’ve heard (or attended) performances such as these—taken from the storied and transitional Fall ’97 Tour—it’s difficult to form an opinion of a band that’s true potential has always been reserved for the live setting.
Phish: Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97 presents a run of three entire concerts from November 21 & 22, 1997 at Hampton Coliseum Hampton, VA and November 23, 1997 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC. The recordings, taken from sound engineer/guitar luthier Paul Languedoc’s stereo soundboard mix and remastered by sound guru Fred Kevorkian, pay justice to these coveted tapes with 7 great-sounding CDs that also include unreleased soundchecks from both venues.
But what separates Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97 from the band’s previous live output, is the release of three consecutive shows from one of the most loved periods in Phish history. As lore will tell, the fall of 1997 is not only a consensus milestone of the bands touring career, but also one of the most unique and experimental. For, in this time, the transition of Phish’s sound toward a more groove-oriented approach had come full circle—akin to that of Miles’ band from the late ’60s to early ’70s—propelling the band into one of their greatest creative high points. While this period defines itself on its own, it also acts as the catalyst to what would occur in the years the followed.
Set between the abstract psychedelia that stretched from 1994-1996 and the cosmic rock that formed between 1998 and 2000, this phase marked the largest upending in Phish’s career since they graduated from playing Grateful Dead and Wilson Pickett tunes in the 80s. The inspiration for this transition came while performing the entirety of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light on Halloween ’96, gradually taking hold over the following year, and finally coming to fruition during the fall of ’97.
In Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, he notes than an enlightened individual will be drawn to subtle patterns and tones, as oppose to things presented more elaborately. During this tour, Phish embarked on a path representative of this philosophy. Guided by the collective group ethos of African artists such as King Sunny Aide and Manu Dibango, the transition resulted in the presence of groove-based jams and a greater use of effects and looping techniques. For a change, bassist Mike Gordon, who is much higher in the mix than usual, can often be heard leading the band while guitarist Trey Anastasio reverts to wah-laden karate chops in place of his usual chow-mein solos (although there are still plenty of those).
On Novemeber 21 at Hampton Coliseum, the opener—an ambitious debut cover of the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue”—catches an early glimpse of Anastasio’s recently added looping rig with decaying sirens peaking out from beneath the groove-based improv, carefully crafted layers of sound and colorful textural tones present in the undercurrent. Drummer Jon Fishman keeps a riding jazz beat as Gordon lays out coiling, high ended lead phrases and McConnell adds synthy washes of sound beneath. The jam carries away from the loose “cow funk” label into a four part space journey that ranks as one of the highlights of the entire box set, largely setting the tone for the next three nights. And that’s just the opening cut (of the first night).
During the second set, on “Ghost”—a staple of the tour—Anastasio and McConnell lead the rhythm at the start of the jam as Gordon throws out trebly bass leads, experimenting with his arsenal of effects (a hint at the direction he would take in the years following). Anastasio begins a simple melody that raises the tempo, and then continues to gradually fall before the jam transports into a charging, cosmic sound quest. McConnel remains on piano for the first several measures, providing a haunting eeriness to this particularly dark segment of improv. But after a while, Anastasio reconfigures the jam with some bright major chords and trills, jumping into one of the first lengthy version of “ACDC Bag” on the tour. It’s another juggernaut from this performance depicting the improvisational fluidity of the band, while also marking the period’s shortened setlists in favor of more lengthy jams.
The second performance from Hampton Coliseum contains many exceptional moments of improv, including the unexpected “Mike’s Groove” opener and, especially, the much-loved second set “Halley’s Comet.” The latter of these is another extended sound quest, beginning with a typical (for the period) journey into the world of space funk before carving out a segment of calm, spontaneous compositional beauty. This is why “cow funk”, as this type of jamming is often labeled, is often misrepresentative of the period. Many, if not most, of the strongest moments on Hampton/Winston-Salem ‘97 are also the mellowest. However, the tight groove-based experiments act as a launch pad for these moments, allowing the band to travel deeper through the pulsing beats and layered soundscapes.
All three concerts here have their own rewards and the way to fully enjoy this box set is to sit and listen to each in its entirety, seeing the evolution of the sound play out over the three shows. Each night is another experiment. You can hear the band’s excitement to explore, such as with Anastasio calling out “Stay on ‘F’” to Gordon before the “Halley’s jam” ensues, or with the emergence of the funk instrumental “Black Eyed Katy”—the only song to appear twice on the box set.
On the third night, the band switches venues, but the move fails to impede their creative flow. Fueled by the previous two performances, the November 23 show from Winston-Salem carries a distinct energy that seems almost tappable. The first set gets the full treatment with a one of the furthest explorations of “Black Eyed Katy,” and a far reaching krautrock jam on “Stash.” But, as with the many shows on this tour, there is a central highlight of the night, and in Winston-Salem that highlight is the 30 minute second set “Bathtub Gin.” Anastasio’s midrangey, wah-heavy guitar riffs lead the jam through a wailing solo for several minutes out of the gate, but eventually, as with the funk, the music reaches for the cosmos and a near-ambient space groove emerges. A different launch pad is used to reach a similar place, and before long another segment of spontaneous composition emerges with the band riffing off Anastasio’s octave-dropped melody, while setting the coarse for the astral trails. The level of interconnectedness shows Phish at one of its tightest points, and it’s clear by now that the transformation has fully taken hold.
This is why Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97 is an essential piece of not only Phish history, but recorded improvisational music: adventures as far-reaching as these have rarely been seen on the rock stage. They were still operating with the same vision of the past, but were realizing it in an entirely new way and seeing how far they could push it each and every night. Before a year would pass, the band would be exploring a new sound built off the foundations of this one, and with these three consecutive performances we see this transitional phase at its peak. An understanding of Phish can only be known through the heights reached in their greatest live concerts, and Hamton/Salem ’97, for many fans, represents the apex of that.
[Picture by Marc Whitman]
Here’s video from The War on Drug’s excellent sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom on Sunday night. See a jammed out version of “Your Love is Calling My Name” > “The Animator,” as well as another take on the Dead’s “Touch of Grey.”
Check out videos of a deeply fried version of “Bend Beyond” along with a new song from Woods’ show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on Thursday night. Replacing tape guru G. Lucas Crane is Matt “MV” Valetine (of MV & EE) on tapes, second guitar and harp. Tonight, Woods play at Cosmic Charlie’s in Lexington, KY with the stellar lineup of Jovontaes and Wooden Wand.
Brooklyn’s underground afro-jamband Superhuman Happiness have unveiled a new video for the song “Needles and Pins,” featured on the group’s The Physical EP available now at iTunes, Royal Potato Family, or your local record store. Superhuman Happiness also play this Friday at Zebulon and then again on 12.30 Post-Phish for a special Dog Gone Blog New Years event at the Cakeshop. Also announced, the group will be opening for DGB favs Rubblebucket at New York’s Bowery Ballroom on January 28, 2012. Check out the new video below and be sure to RSVP for the DGB Post-Phish event here.
Watch video of The War on Drugs covering the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC last night.
[Original art by Sean Metcalf]
We post a great deal of new music on this site, as well as on our Twitter feed and especially our Facebook page. With all of this new music, it’s understandable if one or more of these artists my have evaded your ears. And so, as we approach the end of the year we’ve compiled a mix featuring some of our favorite songs posted over the last 12 months. Stream/download below.
01. Woodsman – View From The Vision Hand
02. White Fence – Growing Faith
03. Run DMT – Richard
04. Twerps – Dreamin’
05. Nightlands – Trouble (Lindsey Buckingham cover)
06. Julian Lynch – Terra
07. Minerva Lions – Megrims
08. The War On Drugs – It’s Your Destiny
09. Rangers – Conversations On The Jet Stream
10. Spectre Folk – The Blackest Medicine
11. Spectrals – Doing Time
12. Amen Dunes – Bedroom Drum
13. Pure X – Dry Ice
14. Jeffertitti’s Nile – Mountain Jam
15. The Paperhead – Back To Those Days
16. Quilt – Penobska Oakwalk
17. Pancho San – Kick The Fences Down
18. Silver Pines – Timefather
19. Alex Bleeker & The Freaks – Getting By
20. Magic Trick – Daylight Moon
21. Peaking Lights – Birds Of Paradise (Dub Version)
22. Superhuman Happiness – Human Happiness
Here’s one of the artists I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, but never got the chance to. CMJ, for the most part, was a major disappointment this year. But one of the high points for me, personally, was getting to finally see Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes project. After hearing his debut 2009 release DIA, recorded in a remote cabin in the Catskill Mountains, and then this year’s Through Donkey Jaw, McMahon quickly established himself as one of my favorite stoner psych minimalists. Below, check out one of the year’s best unofficial videos for “Diane” off Amen Dunes’ Murder Dull Mind 12″ EP out on Sacred Bones. Also viddy the official video for “Bedroom Drum” off Through Donkey Jaw.
[Photo by Jessica Amaya]
This great new video of The War on Drugs from MPLS.TV features a chat with lead Druggy Adam Granduciel mixed with some live performance clips of songs from the new album Slave Ambient. Check it out below.
It’s that time of year when Holiday music is nearly inescapable. But it seems it’s been a long time since one of our favorite artists did a spin on one of these holiday classics. This year, Woods would like to wish you a Merry Christmas with this creepy take on Vince Guaraldi’s classic “Christmas Time Is Here” off the timeless A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Enjoy, and happy holidays.