All of Them Witches : Hunters Moon

All of Them Witches bring dark and eerie things to mind with its wistful and mournful sounds, and that’s a very good thing. Listening to their 2016 debut The Coven brought to mind the slight hint of campfire smoke hovering in the air, distant light flickering in a dense forest, a dead moon hanging in the night sky, and a boarded up cabin off the beat and narrow that holds secrets our feeble minds cannot bear to comprehend. These are the things I thought of when I first heard The Coven. All of Them Witches, a one-man operation, runs on the imagination and nightmares of Gary Dimes. He steps into the musical world of 70s and 80s horror cinema and stitches together musical motifs and Gothic melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in stories told by Argento, Romero, Coscarelli, and Carpenter. There’s even hints of NES’ Castlevania(check out “Devil’s Pepper” for proof) lingering on The Coven.

In just a couple weeks Gary Dimes is releasing the newest All of Them Witches album on an unsuspecting 2018 and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Hunters Moon builds upon the foundation of The Coven and pushes the scope and vibe to new, glorious highs.

The first track to hit you is the eloquent “Copper Bones”. It has a decidedly 80s feel. Something like John Harrison’s excellent Day of the Dead soundtrack, but with an OMD vibe. It’s a lush track covered in layers of synth with an electro rhythm that carries the track along. “It’s Not Cranberry Sauce” is all electro queasiness. Dimes lays it on pretty thick here, and to stunning effect. It really does sound like something from some obscure early 80s slasher. “Hele Bay” is a rock solid techno nightmare. It’s like a mixture of Carpenter stabs with a psychedelic take on Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. With headphones on this one is quite the disorienting number. “Westward Foams” wavers in the air like some ominous omen. It starts out with elements of Charles Bernstein’s A Nightmare On Elm Street score but quickly morphs into its own beast.

All of Them Witches doesn’t leave a single moss-covered rock unturned musically. You stay engaged having a feeling of familiarity, while still knowing this is all new to you. Like wondering if you dreamt what you are hearing years before. Something like “The Arrival” opens with an existential drone that builds into something I’d describe as triumphant. “Triple Stones” has a galactic terror vibe with it’s electro funk rhythm guiding the claustrophobic synths through the dark. “The Otherworld” is beautiful in its vastness and spatial musical landscape. There’s a definite sci fi vibe. It’s very reminiscent of Wojciech Golczewski’s work on his trilogy of space albums(The Signal, Reality Check, and End of Transmission.) These contemplative moments are when All of Them Witches shines. They add a vulnerability to Dimes work, amidst all the psychic terror happening throughout the album. “Silently Stalking” goes nearly full horror disco, bringing to mind something you might’ve heard in an early Abel Ferrara film.

Gary Dimes, aka All of The Witches, pays homage to the scores that musically framed our nightmares in the 70s and 80s, but doesn’t ever merely ape a Carpenter or Argento score. Musically he’s created new nightmares to follow us into sleep. Hunters Moon is an exquisite musical journey into pain and pleasure. It has such sights to show you.

Hunters Moon will be released in March. Follow Burning Witches Records at their website and their Bandcamp page for more information. Check out tracks “Copper Bones” and “The Otherworldhere.  Check a teaser video out here.

8.1 out of 10

worriedaboutsatan : Shift EP

U.K.-based worriedaboutsatan are all about digging into the unknown and making something out of that darkness. There are elements of techno, dance, ambient, and heavy atmosphere in their work, with all of their musical voodoo coming to ahead on 2016s Blank Tape, their 3rd full-length. From that breakthrough record, the Yorkshire duo headed into the studio and recorded two improvisational sessions where they wanted to just hit play and see where their imagination would take them. No overthinking it, just in-the-moment creativity. The result is a two-track EP titled Shift. The album consists of “Shift(Part 1)” and “Shift(Part 2)” and it’s a dreamy, dystopian affair that has elements of Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and even American composer Ben Lovett(check out his Synchronicity score for reference here.) It’s a stunning piece of work.

I spoke with Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale last year about their band and the sound they create. Of their sound, Ragsdale stated “We used to be quite focused on making ‘dance music’, but since we’ve mellowed out in our 30s we’re more interested in writing music you can light a blunt to.” The guys said a lot more than that, and their music is more than just blunt-lighting fare, but I can see the advantage of an altered state of mind when listening to worriedaboutsatan, in-particular Shift.

Side A is “Shift(Part 1)”, a hazy, set-adrift-in-the-abyss kind of track. Think Lucifer Rising-meets-The Fog and you’ll have an idea of the musical trip you bought a ticket for. I think this is probably some of the most engaing music these guys have created. There’s something to be said for music that makes you groove as you zone out, but when you can get connected to the universe on a deeper level without 808 beats and Orbital-like grooves then that’s something(and kids, no blunts needed here.) “Shift(Part 1)” is very ominous to begin. You can imagine the Dark Lord himself rising from the fog searching for souls to take back to the Netherworld as this song opens. Dark ambient vibes mixed with Gothic chills take you into this world, but soon enough the vibe switches up a bit. Subtle percussive touches come in and there’s a melancholy that rushes over. It’s like Godley/Creme morphed with 80s Tangerine Dream. Guitars sound like they’re in an endless well as synths hang in the darkness.

“Shift(Part 2)” switches gears a bit and brings up the dancier tendencies of the band. A steady techno groove glides along atmospheric sonics and distant melody. Where Side A was the dark, Side  B feels like the light. This is a zone-out kind of track, letting the rhythm take over and pull you into the world worriedaboutsatan has made for us. There’s elements of Cluster, Kraftwerk, even Oneohtrix Point Never to some degree.

These two track were recorded in two semi-improvisational recording sessions at the duo’s home studio in Yorkshire. There’s a looseness here that evokes the feeling of those wild and woolly days in 70s Germany when the Komische, Berlin School cats were blowing minds whilst recording in their living rooms with stacks of synths and ancient drum machines. worriedaboutsatan have captured that feeling of exploration beautifully on these two improvised recordings.

Shift is a continuation of the eerie and intricate aesthetics worriedaboutsatan have been perfecting for the past 10+ years. Melancholy and atmospheric electronica mixed with post-rock vastness continue to permeate this Yorkshire duo’s sound, but this time around it all feels looser and more expansive. Shift is a welcome reprieve from the the imploding outside world.

You can download Shift here, and you can preorder the limited translucent green vinyl at Wolves And Vibrancy Records, which will be released on March 23rd.

7. 7 out of 10

 

Windhand & Satan’s Satyrs Split

I’ve always thought of Windhand as doom metal for those of us that don’t live in a fog of bong smoke; or worship Satan or chase woodland creatures with homemade battle axes in our underwear at midnight. The Virginia 5-pc doom metal band carry with them all the eerie, Gothic vibes that would scare off the meek and mild if they heard something like Soma or Grief’s Infernal Flower blasting through the windows of your home as they walked up to sell you their religion or Girl Scout cookies. But there’s also something slightly pure about their music. Maybe it’s the vocals of Dorthia Cottrell that ground the music. There’s something organic, even tasteful in their brand of Gothic doom. The guitars buzz and reverberate like a war cry and the songs trudge along like they’re being pulled through bloody muck and mire. The organs hum like black angels over the proceedings, offering up eternal sleep with the sweet, sweet kiss of death.

But all of this in the nicest way possible.

Satan’s Satyrs on the other hand sound like Blue Cheer going through a meat grinder with the necronomicon. A buzzing mix of 60s garage rock with a shot of 80s doom metal and pinch of Anton LaVey for good measure. If The Black Lips had been more influenced by Saint Vitus and the Satanic Bible they might’ve turned out more like Satan’s Satyrs.

What do Windhand and Satan’s Satyrs have in common? Both are from Virginia, both dabble in occult-drenched metal, and they’ve released a split together. Two tracks from Windhand and three from Satan’s Satyrs on a 12″, courtesy of Relapse Records. It’s a dense, riff-tastic dose of doom/punk metal that will satiate your appetite for something heavy, sleazy, and dark.

Windhand take Side A and fill it up with two sludgy, Gothic monsoons of doom. “Old Evil” rolls into your ears like some lost Sleep track, but with a little more dexterity. Dorthia Cottrell gives the song a sense of urgency while the band lays down some serious doom-y grooves. There’s some Sabbath vibes in the guitar solo that floats over the proceedings. You can almost see the distant glow of a campfire in some secluded woods somewhere in rural Virginia as this track plays. “Three Sisters” is the epic barn burner of the split. It’s 13 minutes of gauzy, slow motion guitar riffing, epic and Gothic organ, and Cottrell’s voice hanging over the whole thing like some specter from another time. This may very well be the best thing Windhand have done so far. Eerie, melancholy doom at its finest.

Side B is a whole other thing. Satan’s Satyrs blast into the record with “Alucard AD 2018”, a punk-inflected rocker that sounds part early Corrosion of Conformity, classic Saint Vitus, and a touch of Blue Cheer on steroids. Not sure if the guys are really into Castlevania, but I’m going to pretend they are cause I want this song to be on the new season of Netflix’ Castlevania. “Succubus” reminds me of old school 80s thrash mixed with a dose of weedy doom. Imagine Kill Em All and Trouble’s The Skull sort of morphing into a double album and “Succubus” would fit perfectly right in the middle. Satyrs end their side with a cover of “Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby”, a raucous blues number that shows these cats can have a hell of a lot of fun, as well as get their Satan metal on. These guys are students of classic metal, but also are quite respectful of the roots of rock and roll.

I can’t think of a better pairing for a split. Windhand and Satan’s Satyrs deliver the goods here. Drop the needle and get in on this.

7.9 out of 10

 

 

 

Superchunk : What a Time to Be Alive

Superchunk have been a constant in the indie rock music scene since the early 90s. They helped to define a sound, regionally in the Chapel Hill music scene, and nationally that defined what it meant to be “college rock”. There’s also the whole DIY ethos surrounding the band, with members Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan forming indie music record label Merge Records. First they started a label as a way to release their own music as well as music from friends, but Merge has grown into one of the most well-respected independent labels in the world.

So what does all of this say about Superchunk? It says they’re indie rock royalty and over 25 years into their career they’re still a vital American rock band that continue to make great albums. Their latest, the great What a Time to Be Alive, is another excellent record to add to the discography. It’s also a big middle finger to the current administration, wrapped in a pop-inflected punk rock bow. Since their 2010 return with Majesty Shredding from a nine-year hiatus, Superchunk have released three albums, with What a Time to Be Alive being number three and it’s yet another solid record. Another reason to hold these indie rock stalwarts in high regard.

In the spirit of full disclosure I wasn’t much of an indie rock kid, young adult, or even twenty-something. In the early and mid-90s I was hanging with the Beatles, Kinks, and some of those Seattle bands. I was also getting down with Billy Corgan and a bunch of other “alternative” artists that would eventually get too big for their britches. That was the problem with  the alternative 90s, man. So many of them started out so bright in the massive musical night sky only to fizzle out after two or three albums. No staying power. Superchunk have staying power. Just listen to opening/title track “What a Time to Be Alive”. It blows out of the speakers like a rallying cry for all the disenfranchised, horn-rimmed glasses-wearing youth of today and yesteryear. There’s some punk push and pull, but there’s also massive hooks that jump out and grab you. “Lost My Brain” is in and out in just over 1:30 and that’s all is needed. Singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan still sounds like a kid out of Chapel Hill grabbing the world by the cojones and saying “It’s my time, now.” Superchunk exudes a forever youth quality, even well into their near 30 year career. “Break The Glass” sounds like the essential DNA strand that helped define bands like Harvey Danger, Motion City Soundtrack, and a good portion of the emo movement.

Listening to Superchunk’s earlier albums you can hear the echo of other like-minded indie bands of the early and mid-90s. Dino Jr, Sleater-Kinney, Pavement, and Blake Babies all share that air of punk rock abandon and pop hooks that Superchunk have been dabbling in since those pre-Clinton years. With McCaughan and Ballance starting Merge Records, it was as if they were trying to create their own East Coast version of K Records. Except less folk and more buzzing tube amps.

Elsewhere, “Dead Photgraphers” captures some J Mascis guitar noise bliss and “Erasure” does Bob Mould proud with some very Sugar feels. “Our empathy weaponized” McCaughan sings over an almost 50s beat. “Reagan Youth” gets all 80s angst-y. Not sure if this song is an ode to the anarcho-punk band of the same name from Queens, but either way it’s a great track. One of the true highlights here is closing track “Black Thread”. It’s a great and catchy tune with a heaping helping of melancholy. There’s bits of Feelies, REM, and of course plenty of that Chapel Hill magic.

There aren’t too many bands from those early days of 90s indie/alternative/college rock that are still doing the work, writing the songs, and pushing themselves to keep the songs interesting. Of those few that still are, you can include Superchunk. They still have something to say and this protest album of sorts proves it. Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jim Wilbur, and Jon Wurster may not have rewritten the mission statement or rebuilt anything, but there’s no need when things sound as good as What a Time to Be Alive does.

7.7 out of 10

 

Franz Ferdinand : Always Ascending

The early 2000s. It was a magical time for music, wasn’t it? We were overwhelmed with a wave of new and exciting bands mining post-punk and new wave artists past that maybe never got the love and respect they deserved in their moment of awakening. Bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Art Brut, The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Franz Ferdinand appeared on the music skyline and gave us a reason to erase nu metal, Kid Rock, and boy bands out of our collective minds. Fast forward to 2018 and of all those acts I mentioned Franz Ferdinand are the only ones left that have remained relative in the current music zeitgeist. And really, their 2004 debut still sounds pretty damn good 14 years on. It was fun, jagged, dance-y, and didn’t take itself so damn seriously. They followed up their self-titled with the more rock and roll You Could Have It So Much Better in 2005. They took four years to release album number three, the synth-heavy Tonight : Franz Ferdinand in 2009. Their last album, 2013s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions which tried to capture some of that debut album magic, but to mixed results.

Much like the rest of those self-assured young punks of the early 2000s that gave us all hope that music was once again heading in the right direction, by album number 3 things just started to wain a bit for Franz Ferdinand. Still, these Scots aren’t ready to call it quits. Alex Capranos and company have returned with the mildly triumphant Always Ascending. Nothing has been rewritten. The recipe hasn’t been thrown out and created from scratch. No, this record is a revisiting to all those things that worked for Franz Ferdinand; from the angular riffs to the new wave dance numbers and all around goofy abandon, it’s all here. Hit play and just have some fun, why don’t you.

“Always Ascending” starts things out on a fantastically Franz Ferdinand-ian note. We’re given a big, wistful, dreamy opening that sounds very James Murphy-like as the song descends into a sweaty, hedonistic disco groove. Alex Capranos has been one of my favorite front men to emerge in the last 15 years. He just comes across as a guy I’d love to drink a pint with and maybe talk Orange Juice and Wire a bit with. This song is comfort food for my ears. “Lazy Boy” keeps those late night 70s disco vibes going just fine with another self-deprecating song that Capranos seems so well at making. It’s very Gang of Four, minus the militant scowls and punk vitriol. You can almost always count on a poetic bit of balladeering on nearly every Ferdinand release, and “The Academy Award” takes that mantle proudly. It’s a beautifully melancholy piece of music that brings to mind both Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. So yeah, it’s a tear-dampened handkerchief used to clean up a bloody nose as you drive home to an empty existence with an empty fridge kind of song. “Lois Lane” is a lanky synth pop track that you can’t help but bob your head to. It’s like The Human League and Madness playing ping pong in the studio as Talk Talk discussed song arrangements.

Elsewhere, “Huck and Jim” gets a little noisy with big guitars and prevalent bass with some hip hop vibes thrown in for good measure. “Glimpse Of Love” is shimmering guitar and 80s alternative swagger, while “Feel The Love Go” lays down some serious club vibes with Capranos asking the usual questions in the way Alex Capranos does. “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow” tries to make its mark as the last track, but while it has lots of melodrama and production schmaltz it sort of gets forgotten in the wake of the Franz Ferdinand dance party we just experienced.

Franz Ferdinand are a guilty pleasure I’m not about to give up. Always Ascending is a welcome reprieve from the typhoon of junk I see and hear daily every time I open a newspaper or watch the news. Alex Capranos and Franz Ferdinand are the comfort food for my ears that makes me feel like things are gonna be okay. Maybe even if its just for 40 minutes, I can just get lost in weirdly sentimental dance music that reminds me of simpler times. You know, when there was a Bush in office and New York was healing itself, one Strokes album at a time. And four Scots called Franz Ferdinand wanted to “Take Me Out”.

7.9 out of 10

Fu Manchu : Clone Of The Universe

I guess I’ve never been much of a desert rock kind of guy. I’m pretty pale, so the desert holds some pretty painful fates for me. Not even SPF 50 is going to protect me from the raw, naked sun out in Joshua Tree territory, man. I’ll fry like a lobster. Melt some butter and feast on my well-cooked legs. Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t let me go to waste. Stoner rock? I don’t know. Gangly dudes wearing Uriah Heep t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and long greasy hair hanging in their faces posing next to a 1978 Pontiac Firebird(T-top, natch) as they engage a Big Muff and power down on the neck of a beat-up Gibson SG. Smoking up some ditch weed and putting on their best Amboy Dukes-meets-Blue Cheer airs.

Ehh, that’s never been my thing.

Fu Manchu is a band that’s been doing the whole stoner/desert/70s party rock thing for years. Like 24 years, to be exact. Since 1994 these Orange County punks-turned-fuzz rock goons have put out 12 full-length records. Their 12th is the brand new Clone Of The Universe. While I’ve appreciated their bleary-eyed, fuzzy stoner rock from time to time it’s never been something I hit up very often. But with Clone Of The Universe I’ve been reeled in. Maybe it’s a contact high. Maybe I’m needing to be in some other frame of mind. Either way, I’m digging this buzz.

First thing that hits me about this album is it just seems a hell of a lot meatier than their previous output. The guitars are dense and the drums are driving. There’s presence in the vocals, too. “Intelligent Worship” sounds like a song with a purpose. It’s a hefty chunk of desert rock, for sure. But there’s also some Earthless vibes going on here. Before the production always felt a little thin to me. Here, these cats have thickened up their sound. “Bow down, to the one you create”, indeed. “(I’ve Been)Hexed” is just heavy as hell. There’s a paranoid anxiety that engulfs this song, and I don’t think it’s just the weed. Fu Manchu feel plugged into the world around them and it’s coming out in these songs. “Don’t Panic” has some punk rock vibes going on. Scott Hill sounds completely engaged here. I know he says “Don’t Panic”, but listening to this track all you want to do is panic.

“Nowhere Left To Hide” puts me in mind of White Hills with the vocals and the massive wall of fuzzy guitar. Maybe it’s the other way around, maybe White Hills reminds me of Fu Manchu. I don’t know. Either way, this song is all molten riffs and post-apocalyptic doom. Great stuff. “Clone Of The Universe” sports a hell of a groove. You’re in and you’re out. Just how God intended. Finally, we’re treated to a whole side of “Il Mostro Atomico”, an 18-minute epic fuzz explosion that begs the question “When is enough enough?” The answer, when you’re talking about massive guitar squalls, doom-y progressive vibes, and Rush’ Alex Lifeson playing lead guitar is it’s never enough. There’s never really a moment where the vibes wain. This one carries you through from start to finish. Bringing Alex Lifeson in to put some Canadian magic on this track was a righteous move. Nice job, Fu Manchu.

Clone Of The Universe has really sort of opened my eyes to the wonder of Fu Manchu. I’ve given them cursory glances here and there, but not anymore. Clone Of The Universe is a high I’m good with.

7.8 out of 10

The Soft Moon : Criminal

Luis Vasquez seems like a guy with a lot of torment. He seems like a guy with a lot of existential turmoil to unpack. His work as The Soft Moon is a discography of pain, anger, and dark thoughts wrapped in a tattered post-punk bow. The music is always based in rhythm and percussive sway, followed by industrial-grade Goth. Tribal, echoed rhythms backing flanged bass lines and nightmare melodies that would sound at home in some underground S&M club in gritty nightlife Berlin in the late 70s/early 80s. The first two records were nearly instrumental affairs with Vasquez’ voice occasionally peaking out from behind the shadows, heavily effected. But on 2015s excellent Deeper The Soft Moon emerged as more of a singer-songwriter project than it ever had before. Vasquez seemed to be trying to exorcise some ancient demons that he’d been carrying his whole life.

Now, The Soft Moon return with a new album called Criminal on Sacred Bones Records(the first for the New York label, with his previous albums released by Captured Tracks.) Criminal continues Vasquez’ exorcising of past demons. The album is dark, heavy, uninhibited, and recalls Trent Reznor’s most jagged and personal watershedding in NIN, as well as Robert Smith’s antagonizing of death and despair on albums like Faith and Pornography. Criminal is The Soft Moon’s heaviest and most earnest album yet.

When asked about his new album, Luis Vasquez said this, “Guilt is my biggest demon and has been following me since childhood. Everything I do strengthens the narrative that I am guilty” Vasquez reflects. “The concept of ‘Criminal’ is a desperate attempt to find relief by both confessing to my wrongdoings and by blaming others for their wrongdoings that have affected me.” With guilt as a jumping off point, “Burn” opens The Soft Moon’s new album with a healthy dose of industrial techno and self-hatred as Vasquez repeats the line “I can’t control myself” over and over again until he leads us into a soaring chorus(well, at least soaring for The Soft Moon.) The song is built with precision and steely perfection, building into a Wax Trax-like jubilation. “Choke” is slow and menacing. Vasquez covers his vocals in effects, like someone wearing a mask to cover their shame. Here, this might be more for show; The Soft Moon’s own morality play covered in Latin rhythms, nightlife hedonism, and electronic provocation. “Give Something” wavers in the air like a thick smoke. It brings to mind early Cure and darker Depeche Mode. “I don’t wanna lose my mind/that’s why I keep you so close” Vasquez sings over prickly synth lines and a melancholy bass line.

Elsewhere, “Like A Father” is an all-out techno fever dream. “Something’s got to give” and “You’re the ghost of my problem” are sung by a disjointed voice over a dance floor-ready club beat. “It Kills” brings to mind The Soft Moon’s fever dream of an album Zeros with its mix of mournful longing and syncopated desperation. “ILL” captures the claustrophobic doom of Aphex Twin while peppering the proceedings with Afro-Cuban rhythmic flair. Vasquez is a master builder of electronic walls of sound, as this track proves heartily. “Born Into This” is pushed along with industrial heft as machine gun blasts of percussion push the track into Suicide territory. “Criminal” pulls you into a cycle of regret and need for forgiveness.

There isn’t anybody making confessional music like The Soft Moon. Vasquez makes musical art that is immediate and all-encompassing. He creates a multi-emotional experience every time he puts out an album. A Soft Moon record wants to engage all the senses. You not only hear The Soft Moon’s music, but you can feel it. It’s a textural experience. Criminal is an album that wades in guilt; both deserved and self-inflicted. Whether or not Luis Vasquez finds some kind of closure remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s an engaging and visceral experience.

8.3 out of 10