Dead Skeletons – “Dead Comet”

deaddoorDead is an art gallery in Reykjavik, Iceland.  While it’s technically on the main downtown shopping street Laugavegur, you actually have to be on the lookout for it, as it’s down a little gap in between two buildings, almost like an alleyway.  I’ve probably walked by the sign without noticing it back there dozens of times over the years, but this time I was specifically on the lookout for Dead – and even then I almost missed it while actively looking for it!  My reasons for seeking out Dead were twofold.  First, I think artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson has a really cool style.  But two, he’s also in a band called Dead Skeletons.

Jon came out from his studio space when we entered, and he’s an engaging guy.  His gallery space has all kinds of his art from originals to silkscreens to shirts and hats, most of which in some way include images associated with death – skulls, ravens, and things that look somewhat dark and twisted.  He also does silk screening onto 7″ and 12″ records, and I picked up a pair of 12″ers that are hanging on my wall as we speak.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get him to part with any of the 7″ ones that lined the top of the wall, but I was quite happy with what I got.

I also picked up a copy of the most recent Dead Skeletons release, the two song 12″ Dead Comet that was released in 2013.  It’s a unique item in keeping with Jon’s artistic style – both songs are on side A, while side B is silkscreened image (see below).  The jacket is thick, and the inner sleeve also includes beautiful art on both sides.  I bought a copy without even knowing much about Dead Skeletons’ style of music because, frankly, it was just so well put together.deadskeletonsdeadcomet01

And guess what?  The music is pretty damn good too, heavy classic psych rock with trippy vocals, something you can groove to.  The title track, “Dead Comet,” incorporates both male and female vocals and has some seemingly eastern musical influences, with a sort of drone that acts as the backbone of the song.  “Om Vajra Sattva Hung” continues the same general vibe from “Dead Comet,” but with deeper and richer vocals reminiscent of a some kind of heavy mantra.

I’m way into the sound of the Dead Skeletons after just two songs and I’m going to track down some more of their stuff online.  Unfortunately the various albums are all released in some seriously limited quantities, so it might be a while before I can add another to my collection.  Glad I got this one when I did – and Jon had a handful of copies left in the gallery, so if you want one, hit him up… and tell him I sent you!

 

“The Rebel Kind: A Collection Of Contemporary Garage And Psychedelic Bands”

I like a good compilation, especially the sort of indie/small label ones that lump together groups of seldom (if ever) heard bands.  And I have a soft spot for the 1980s.  So when I found this 1983 comp of current garage/psych bands over at Philly’s Sit & Spin Records, I didn’t have to think too hard about whether or not to buy it.  I like the genre, the time period is right, plus I recognized The Nomads, so what the hell.

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Turned out to be a great decision on my part, as whoever curated this thing put together an impressive 14-band roster that covers a range of different subgenres within the overall garage/psych category.  From the pure fuzz guitars on The Nomads’ “Have Love Will Travel” to the rockabilly of The Viceroys’ “7 Come 11” to the pure 60s classic stylings of The Unclaimed, it’s a solid effort start to finish.  My favorite is “Elongations” by Plasticland, sort of a psych/glam blend that reminds me more than a little of an early version of Seattle’s own Mother Love Bone.  Honorable mention to The Point for “All My Life,” featuring a male/female singing duo that captures the best elements of The Vaselines, but does so without the later bands sometimes intentionally amateurish sound.

The Rebel Kind is a winner start to finish, so if you find a used copy floating around out there for a fair price, do yourself a favor and latch on to it.

Ultraviolet Booze Catastrophe – “Electric Honky” 10″

WTF is this?  Who the hell are Ultraviolet Booze Factory, and what demons have possessed them?  Why is there so much harmonica?  And perhaps most importantly, how is it possible I haven’t heard of them before???

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OK, to be fair to me as near as I can tell the Electric Honky 10″ from 1997 is the only recording left behind by Ultraviolet Booze Factory, so the fact that I haven’t heard of them before is probably due to just that.  But man, this is seriously out there.  It’s sort of garage-blues-rock-punk.  Garage because it’s lo-fi in the extreme; the blues influence is all over the guitar work and the harmonica that permeates the songs; rock because, well, it rocks; and punk because these guys are out there.  Like way out there.  The inside jacket shows crushed PBR and Schlitz cans, empty packs of Lucky Strikes and Marlboros, playing cards, a full ashtray, porn… and a little ceramic pig, all on a wicker table.  Amazingly that’s kind of the band’s sound too.

I haven’t heard harmonica used so effectively on heavy music since Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard.”  For real.

As for Ultraviolet Booze Catastrophe’s sound… well… it is super heavy blues rock (the riff in “Boozin’ & Bruisin'” is straight up George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love?”).  The true signatures are the harmonica and Big Daddy’s (yes, Big Daddy) raspy, angry, and frankly flat out creepy singing.  The band effectively changes pacing within many of the songs, bouncing between slow and bluesy, slow and heavy, fast and heavy, and acid trip weird.  You don’t get comfortable or into a zone listening to Ultraviolet Booze Catastrophe.  They’re in charge.  And they’re going to get into your head whether you like it or not.  It’s George Thorogood meets Gun Club with a crazy man singing.

Did I mention they’re from Quebec?  I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming.  At all.

As near as I can tell this 10″ is the only formal release by Ultraviolet Booze Catastrophe, and while you probably won’t randomly run across a copy outside of Quebec/Ontario/Northeast US, you can find it online in the $12-20 range.  Amazingly the band also has a track called “Long Tall Texan” (not on Electric Honky) available on iTunes as part of a Quebec comp called Blow The Fuse – Pot-Pourri de Quality, which will give you at least a brief little taste to whet your appetite a bit.  It’s pretty representative of the sound on Electric Honky, so if you’re interested go check it out.

Icecross – “Icecross”

I was prepared to not like Icecross, or at the very least write about how it’s overrated, self-absorbed prog rock.  And as generally happens when I have preconceptions about music before I actually hear it, what I found was something unexpected.  In the case of Icecross, something unexpected in a big way.

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Icecross might be the most infamous record to have come out of Iceland.  Released in 1973, it quickly developed a cult reputation due to the combo of its quality, English vocals, obscurity, and that certain intangible that is hard to pin down.  With an original press run of only 1,000 copies (there have been subsequent unofficial releases on both CD and limited edition vinyl), it certainly has always been rather hard to find, all the more so since record collectors tend to be hoarders of sorts, something that seems particularly true on genre specific fans like those into psych and prog.  So these don’t see the light of day too often.  When they do, copies consistently fetch hundreds of dollars, with two confirmed eBay sales in 2013 of $700+.  In many ways this is reminiscent of Sororicide’s cult heavy metal record The Entity, though Icecross have had their reputation for much longer than their metal brethren.  Needless to say, I bought my copy on CD.  About $13 with shipping.

Given the notoriety of Icecross, along with the fact that it’s psych, which isn’t exactly my favorite genre, I figured I wouldn’t be terribly impressed.  And, of course, I was wrong.  It’s a strange album, and one that’s hard to explain in part due to the mixing of styles throughout the album.  You’ve got heavy (“Solution”), folk rock (“A Sad Man’s Story”), quasi country (“Wandering Around”), and even the truly bizarre dystopian nightmarish (“1999”).  The one consistent element is the bass, which is the thread that keeps it all feeling related even when the styles differ.  The bass gives it all weight, and always a bit of dread and doom.  It’s not speed metal type heavy; it’s slow; it’s relentless; it’s the stuff of nightmares; it will come to your house at night and take your children.

He’s about to hit my head,
Everything is turning red,
I can’t make it any more,
I’m falling on the ground
And it scares me so,
Scares me so.
— “Scared”

I lean more towards the proto-heavy metal songs on Icecross.  “Solution” sounds a lot like a prog version of early Black Sabbath with slow, doomy rhythm and vocals (including moaning harmony), punctuated by almost baroque guitar work that offers a jarring contrast.  “1999” is about the future.  A future where your body is going to get machined replacement parts, turning us into cyborgs.  It opens with almost a martial sound which contributes to the oppressive vibe, making it feel like the man is coming to get you.  And “Nightmare,” well, it’s creepy.  Almost operatic.  Grandiose.  With a pace that keeps building.  Frenetic.  Then dropping in some of the most bizarrely modified vocals of the era, something that sounds like (WARNING!  NERD ALERT!) the voice of Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi when she was dressed up as a bounty hunter at the start of the movie and tried to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hut.  You know, before she was in that metal bikini.  Kind of like what it would sound like if the devil was gargling as he spoke to you.  But from the future.

Though I like the heavy stuff, my favorite song is actually “A Sad Man’s Story,” which is a straight up folk rock song about losing a chick.  Maybe I’m a romantic.  Or just like sad bastard music.  But the guitar work is beautiful, there’s a bit of piano/organ here, and the vocals have the dreary sound of a man who has lost something.

I’m really into this CD.  Unfortunately my copy has a fault about 1:20 into the song “Scared,” which digitizes the sound for about five seconds or so.  Annoying, though not a terribly big deal.  I’d be curious to see if the new version that was just released by Rockadrome has a similar fault.  I’m not sure if this is a problem with my copy, or all the pressings from my version (the unofficial NL002 release).  As a side note, the NL002 CD version has the songs slightly out of order, moving what should be the opening track “Wandering Around” into the fourth spot (though the rest of the order is correct).

Icecross is absolutely worth checking out if you’re into prog or metal.  Obviously the CD versions are much more affordable, though the vinyl re-release is reasonably priced as well.  And yes, it’s even available on iTunes for under $8.  So you have no excuse.

The Weir – “Yesterday’s Graves”

When you’re in a relationship with someone for a period of time you start to develop habits and inside jokes that only you two know.  My wife and I have something along these lines related to Calgary.  We went through a phase where we watched pro wrestling on TV together, getting kicks out of the crazy story lines and sometimes being blown away by tremendous (and often incredibly risky) physical feats.  One of our favorite “heels” was Lance Storm, a too-stiff-to-believe guy with a buzz cut who’s Canadian citizenship was always part of his schtick.  Seemingly whenever he got the mic he’d remind you he was from “Calgary [long pause… wait for it… wait for it…] Alberta, Canada!”  So pretty much any time we hear someone say Calgary, you can bet the two of us will try to “out-Lance-Storm” each other and drop an “Alberta, Canada” at just the perfect time, usually 3-4 seconds after hearing “Calgary”.  Other people, of course, find this odd at best, annoying at worst.

So what the hell does Lance Storm have to do with self-described sludge / post-hardcore /  ambient band The Weir?  Well, they’re from Calgary [wait for it!]… Alberta, Canada too.  But unlike their wrestling city-mate, The Weir aren’t funny.  They’re slow and heavy, like oil draining from a cold engine.  Like Godzilla stomping his way through Tokyo.  Like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders and trying to take a step.

The band description raised my eyebrows.  I wasn’t quite sure how those genres fit together, but I have to admit I was intrigued.  When I went to their homepage to listen to their new album Yesterday’s Graves (see below), I wasn’t surprised to see they only had six songs… that seems pretty punk rock.  But I was surprised that those six songs provided over 42 minutes of music.  Very un-punk.  The Weir aren’t here to short-change you with quick hardcore numbers.  Oh no.  Like all good things, their songs take time to develop.  This isn’t quick-in-quick-out.  They’re taking you somewhere, and it’s a slow, methodical journey, sometimes heavy, sometimes quiet.  And you’re just along for the ride.

The Weir give us two distinctive sounds on Yesterday’s Graves – one that is quiet, and one that is insistent.  Somehow they weave these two disparate themes together into something that fits.  In the middle of the album “La Belle Curve” is an eight minute instrumental that starts slow, picks up somewhat, but not a ton, in the middle, and then slowly trails off over the last couple of minutes before it finally seems to simply lose momentum to the point where it comes to a complete stop on its own, like the expanding universe may eventually do, slowly and ever more quietly approaching its end.  This is the ambient.  But then follows “In Silence,” which starts almost like a continuation of “La Belle Curve,” like the universe found just a bit more energy and is starting to come back to life… and it starts to build… insistently… and just over a minute in the growling vocals start to appear… energy… power… slowly starting to crush you.  How did we get here?  Things were so quiet and still just a minute or so ago!  You don’t know.  You didn’t see it coming.  And that, my friends, is the power of The Weir, a microcosm of their sound in two songs.

To me, Yesterday’s Graves isn’t six songs.  It’s one song.  It’s one message from The Weir to the universe.  I couldn’t tell you which song is my “favorite” because that doesn’t seem to make any sense in the context of this album, which I think is best played straight through, start to finish.  I’m kind of glad I’m not listening on headphones, because I think I’d have been put into a trance and transported into some kind of mind-trip.  Which sounds cool as hell, but it’s a bit too sunny outside for that journey right now.  Maybe tonight when it gets dark and quiet…

Simply put, Yesterday’s Graves is one of the best new albums I’ve heard this year.  Period.

Yesterday’s Graves is currently available online for a free listen, and you can also purchase the download.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Dude, this isn’t vinyl.  True.  But… [wait for it!] it’ll be on vinyl soon!  In fact, according to the band’s Facebook page they already got the test pressings.  So it’s coming.  And it will be worth the wait.  And you need to be ready so you can buy your copy before what I’m guessing will be a relatively small release is sold out.  You seriously don’t want to miss out on this, because Yesterday’s Grave is some killer stuff.