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Friday, January 9, 2015

KP's Top Ten Stoner Rock Albums of 2014

There is something about the proverbial changing of the calendar that prompts within us all an inclination towards contemplative reflection (and for some of us an apparently concomitant inclination towards redundant verbiage). We all seek to categorize events into convenient yet ultimately arbitrary chunks of time with the hope of identifying the particular events, trends, fashions, books, movies, and (of course) albums that we feel encapsulate the zeitgeist of that particular chunk of time more than any other. It is ultimately absurd and futile folly. But then again, I love ranking shit as much as the next guy so fuck it here's my list of the ten stoner rock albums that I feel best encapsulate the zeitgeist of 2014...or somesuchshit.

10.  Foghound - "Quick, Dirty and High"

Foghound released their debut so early in 2014 I almost overlooked it for inclusion in this list. Thankfully, an almost criminal omission was averted. "Resurrect the Throwaways" indeed! Propelled by the propulsive opening track "Easy Come, Easy Go" (a balls out rocker which augments the obligatory gang vocal choruses with gang vocal verses to boot!), "Quick, Dirty and High" lives up to the billing of its title and offers the kind of greasy lo-fi bongapalooza that Fu Manchu perfected. Foghound actually pays homage to the mighty Fu in their own endearingly off kilter way on "Get in My Van". However, unlike their Orange County brethren, this is no invitation for a sunny beach blanket bongout. No, in the grimy hands and dirty minds of these sick Baltimore fucks, "Get in My Van" becomes the soundtrack to the perverse entreaties of a serial rapist.

9. Crobot - Something Supernatural

Hailing from the appropriately named Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Crobot have been honing their chops with incessant touring across this great land of ours until finally releasing their first full length LP, Something Supernatural this fall. On such full throttle rockers as "Legend of the Spaceborne Killer", Crobot have showcased their signature sound. With Brandon Yeagley's multi-octave vocals soaring over the band's funky, metallic aural onslaught, Crobot are the answer to the question of what the bastard child would sound like if Wolfmother and Rage Against The Machine engaged in a bit of in flagrante delicto. Naturally, such a band would be more predisposed to bombast than to subtlety. It is thus a little surprising that Crobot actually hits their stride and really shines on the more atmospheric and evocative tracks like "Queen of the Light" and "La Mano de Lucifer", on which they breathe musical life to lyrics such as "It's better to reign in Hell than to serve God's will". Amen.

8. 1000 Mods - Vultures

Those Greek psychedelic stoners 1000 Mods returned from their great super van vacation to show that the promise from their debut lp was merely a harbinger of things to come on their latest album, Vultures. Chock full of jangly guitar riffs, grungy atmospherics, and a molasses-like morass of feedback-driven fuzz, it's an album which oddly sounds as if it exists simultaneously in the late sixties and the early nineties. 1000 Mods specialize in rock that is slow and grungy and bloozy as evidenced on "She", a Bataan death march of a tune highlighted by a guitar solo that's as incisive as a switchblade to the gut. Far and away the coolest track on the album, however, is the instrumental closer "Reverb of the New World". An itchy riff scrapes across a hypnotic percolating bass line before the drums propel the whole goddamn thing into a full throttle cosmic rocker that hyperdrives itself into spaced-out oblivion.

7. Planet of Zeus - Vigilante

Like Toby, I was struck by the emergence of two Greek bands producing such strong efforts that together they occupy 20% of my top ten list. What is really cool is how they both achieve greatness in markedly distinctive styles. In sharp contrast to 1000 Mods' laid back cool, Planet of Zeus adopts a much more aggressive style, coming off as the little brother who forgot to take his Ritalin. On Vigilante's opening salvo "The Great Dandolos", the band explodes in propulsive fashion, sounding like the Hellenic answer to Clutch as Babis vacillates between swaggering vocals in the verses and shouty screams on the choruses, all over a piledriving riff and throbbing backbeat. Other highlights from the album include the title track, which sounds like the bastard stoner grandchild of Black Oak Arkansas. It all culminates in "The Beast Within", an epic track that truly has it all:  a main riff that is colossal, circumlocutional, and abjectly brutal; a melodic Mediterranean midsection; and lead vocals so deranged they sound like Phil Anselmo overdosing on bath salts.

6. Electric Citizen - Sateen

Opening acts on summer tours are a lot like Cracker Jack surprises in that you never know what you're gonna get but it's usually gonna be disposable and altogether forgettable. But occasionally you'll get something cool like a pack of bitchin tattoos. When Cincinnati Ohio's Electric Citizen opened up for Fu Manchu this summer, we all saw something really cool, a young band positioning themselves as the potential breakout stars for the Sabbath Worship sect. When their highly anticipated debut, Sateen, was finally released, it appears the soothsayers were right for once. While incorporating a decidedly doomy seventies sound, Electric Citizen elect to eschew overt deviltry in favor of more nuanced sinister tones to achieve their own distinctive foreboding vibe. They also underscore the notion that on the rare occasion when keyboards should be employed in metal, they should sound as evil as fuck like they do on "Burning in Hell". But, unquestionably, what sets them apart from their peers is vocalist Laura Dolan, who smartly chose an approach that is more siren than succubus. Laura's mellifluous voice, whether on the hypnotically haunting "Hawk Nightengale" or the pulsating pounder "Light Years Beyond", is so enchanting it can only lead to a rapturous doom.

5. Fu Manchu - Gigantoid

Speaking of Fu Manchu, they released their highly anticipated Gigantoid in 2014 and it is easily their best album since the Mammoth Records days. Kicking the album off in ripsnorting fashion is "Dimension Shifter", which starts out as a balls-out snarling affair before the band steps in a time machine midsong and transport themselves back in time to 1997 and settle into a sludgy Sabbatherian groove accentuated by oscillating guitar licks. Other highlights include "Radio Source Sagittarius", perhaps the most quintessential Fu Manchu tune on the record, with its serpentine riff and obligatory cowbell, as well as "Evolution Machine" on which they evoke B-movie cool as only they can.  However, it is "Anxiety Reducer" which is clearly the album's transcendent track. Its' fuzzy gargantuan riff is otherwordly, otherweirdly, and as subtle as a drill bit being bored into your skull!

4. Mothership - II

On Mothership's second album, imaginatively titled II, this Dallas-based power trio have produced what for me is the most surprisingly badass album of the year. The album cover is in the same DIY indie label early 80's metal style that the debut sported, but the tuneage is light years beyond. Of the eleven tracks contained within, eight of them cohere around a mystical/fantasy-based theme. Most notable of these are actually two instrumentals, the beautifully grandiose "Celestial Prophet" and the wickedly exotic "Tamu Massif". Other standouts include "Priestess of the Moon", a relentless riff-fest that bludgeons in the style popularized by The Sword and "Eye of Sphinx" which is  alternately cruising and crushing. Unlike the typical fantasy-based band, Mothership elect to periodically interrupt the mystical proceedings by throwing in a couple of curveballs that sound like AC/DC momentarily hijacked the album. In lesser hands, it would make the recording come off as half-assed. But Mothership rock the tunes so freakin hard that they achieve the affect of appearing disarmingly unhinged. In fact, it is one of these curveballs, "Shanghai Surprise", a tale of transsexual shenanigans, that is easily the standout track on the whole album.

3. Greenleaf  - Trails & Passes

Greenleaf  have always occupied a unique niche in the world of Swedish stoner rock. As a side band with a rotating roster, they exist essentially as the musical equivalent of a superhero team. Part of the fun is seeing who shows up when guitarist Tommi Holappa yells "Avengers assemble!" As a consequence to all the lineup rotations, Greenleaf  have exhibited a chameleon-like quality to shift from muscle car fuzzouts ("Witchcraft Tonight") to struttin blooze ("Stray Bullit Woman") to haunting epic ("Nest of Vipers"). On their latest album Trails & Passes, the band has produced a record that is decidedly mature on the surface but deceptively subversive at its core. The album kicks off in blistering fashion with full-throttle rocker "Mother Ash" and extends to funky strutter "Humans". "With Eyes Wide Open" begins with a scraping intro that segues into a laid-back spacey vibe. With the refrain of "open up your eyes, don't trust their lies" chanted over hypnotic tribal drumming, the track is easily the record's resident smokeout bong star and would easily be the best tune on the album if not for the monumental title track. Over fuzzed-out bass and a hard charging beat, "Trails and Passes" rips along at a driving pace until erupting in a volcanic avalanche of searing licks.  

2. Wo Fat - The Conjuring

On The Conjuring, Dallas power trio Wo Fat returned to treat all the psychedelonauts to another heaping helping of their trademark brand of malevolent blues rock. That their latest would be their greatest is evident from the outset, as the title track opens with a sinister intro that sounds like a cauldron bubbling or perhaps Satan himself cooking up a pot of Texas chili before kicking in with a chugging guitar over a lumbering rhythm recorded at the precise speed at which zombies ambulate. For anybody that has experienced Wo Fat in person and has felt how murderously loud they can be, you can just imagine how wicked this tune translates in a live setting. The undisputed standout of the album though is "Beggars Bargain", a struttin' cock of seventies boogie double baked by the sweltering Texas sun and too many bong hits. Augmented by a hellacious solo and the judicious use of cowbell, the song is a veritable blitzkrieg assault of aural rapage. Closing out the album in epic fashion is the sprawling 17 minute "Dreamwalker. The track smolders its way at a diabolical pace as Luciferian licks insinuate themselves in your brain, eviscerating the last vestiges of your sanity.

1. Truckfighters  - Universe

Perhaps it is a sentimental choice, but for the number one album of 2014 I chose the first album I reviewed for Heavy Planet, Truckfighters' Universe, their conceptual opus centered around the conspiratorial machinations of clandestine forces surreptitiously orchestrating events. The whole thing kicks off with the serpentine riff of "Mind Control" and the band quickly settles into their trademark Swedish groove which seamlessly segues into "The Chairman" and its bubbling bassline that percolates like bong water. The hidden gem of the record is "Get Lifted".  "The beautiful soul that dies can't get out until the colours dry" sings Ozo over a hypnotic, ethereal melody until it is interrupted by a heavy growl of fuzz that becomes ever more urgent and more insistent until it finally explodes in what can only be described as a snarl.  It all ends with sprawling epic closer "Mastodont". Thematically, the song speaks of a soul being sent out to space to die, a cosmological update on the traditional Viking funeral. Intricate guitar lines build the tension like cryptic ciphers until what is created is nothing less than the most gargantuan of riffs that threatens to blow your speakers as well as your mind.  

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