New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: stoner music

Drift Through the Galaxy With Luke Schneider

Pedal steel player Luke Schneider’s ornately multitracked solo album Altar of Harmony – streaming at Bandcamp – draws equally on ambient music, dense Pink Floyd sonics and slowly drifting, cinematic guitar soundscapes in the same vein as Kaia Fischer’s epics, or Noveller in a more reflective moment.

There are eight tracks, each with a Latin or quasi-Latin title, a series of majestically minimalist variations on an A major drone. The live version of Brian Eno’s Apollo album, featuring another stellar pedal steel player, BJ Cole, is the obvious reference point.

Starry pulses and elegantly echoing tones mingle with muted plucks. Schneider gets his strings to hum and hover like a synth or an organ, in addition to the instrument’s signature keening, tremoloing sound. As tectonic sheets of chords oscillate, pan the sonic picture and the frequency of the pulse increases, Eluvium‘s more enveloping themes come to mind. Schneider typically plays a lot faster and more virtuosically than this: his focus on creating a mood and sticking with it is impressive. This is a great wind-down record.

A Stunning Ravi Shankar Rarity Rescued From Obscurity

There’s enough Ravi Shankar online to listen to for a year without a break. Needless to say, pretty much every time he sat down with his sitar, the J.S. Bach of Indian music was spine-tingling to witness. Today’s album is a rarity. Ravi Shankar Live in Hollywood 1971 – streaming at Bandcamp – was recorded at a house concert and only released posthumously. It’s Shankar at his most succinct. In concert, he could and would often go on for hours, but three of the four ragas here are especially brief for him. Poignancy, humor, relentless suspense, spectacular peaks, it’s all here, in slightly smaller but no less psychedelic packages than usual.

He opens with a relatively rare morning raga, Raga Vibhas, slowly and meticulously building a low midrange melody, the sun gradually looming over the horizon as he brightens the textures. Yet immediately, he introduces a persistent chromatic unease. It’s extraordinary how he senses the need to pick up the pace at almost exactly the midway mark, not knowing how this will end! The late introduction of the tabla gives Shankar the chance to drive toward a big crescendo with his clustering phrases. Wryly twinkling riffs draw a chuckle or two, then Shankar focuses in with an incisive attack.

Raga Parameshwari is the centerpiece, the sitarist at the top of his game through another morning raga that goes on for well over fifty minutes. The long, steady, lingering opening alap, Shankar finally descending to rich, suspensefully warpy low tones, also features spare, allusive tabla. The sitar builds intensity with recurrent variations on an allusively chromatic, tantalizingly unresolved rising phrase, then the music warms, rising and falling, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. A momentary, hypnotic, minimalist lull is breathtaking (for everybody, it seems) and signals a first round of rapidfire volleys, supersonic sizzle intermingled within the persistent metallic gleam.

Shankar dedicates the brightly lilting, relatively brief Raga Dunh to the people of Bangladesh, imperiled at the time by a Pakistani invasion. The single, bracingly rising opening riff, plaintive, resonant tones and classic, stairstepping moment in the alap that opens Raga Sindhi Bhairavi only hint at the torrential power Shankar  will generate. Considering its origins, this raga has more Middle Eastern ambience than most of the others in the cycle. And yet, Shankar is just as rambunctiously funny in places as he is slashingly incisive elsewhere. Of all the ragas here, this is the most straightforward and unrelenting, his volleys of tremolo-picking and wild bends rising throughout a long, stunning coda.

Swedish Metal Band Alastor Deliver a Morbid, Psychedelic Response to the Insanity of 2020 and This Year

Swedish metal band Alastor‘s riff-metal surrounds you in walls of distortion and fuzz, but with refreshingly oldschool production values and swirly organ which amps up the psychedelic factor. The band like slow, sludgy songs with tarpit acid blues solos and more interesting structures beyond simple verses and choruses. Only a couple of tracks on their new album Onwards and Downwards – streaming at Bandcamp – clock in at less than seven minutes. It’s interesting to hear a band that’s always been associated with doom metal switching out the usual macabre chromatics and horror riffs for a more circling, mesmerizing, immersive attack.

There’s cold clunk from Jim Nordström’s drums behind frontman Robin Arnryd’s spring-wound, growling bass as the opening track, The Killer in My Skull follows a slow sway, up to the distorted, circling chords and distant organ in the hypnotic, riff-driven midsection.

The second track is Dead Things in Jars, a toxically foggy update on Master of Reality riff-sludge with slowly shifting rhythmic changes, guitarist Hampus Sandell’s screaming wah lines winding down quickly to a slow space-blues interlude.

Death Cult is an unexpectedly fast, pounding, slurry number that’s a lot closer to Brian Jonestown Massacre spacerock. Sandell gets the fuzz and the distortion going with his hammer-on riffs as the bass and drums take a much slower prowl in Nightmare Trip.

They follow the brief rainy-day acoustic guitar interlude Pipsvängen with the album’s epic title track, slowly shifting from one anthemic, burning theme to another, making you wait for the big payoff. They close the album with Lost and Never Found, a grim metal take on a ba-bump stripper theme.

As a whole, the album is a response to the insanity of the past fourteen months. You may wonder why a Swedish group would be complaining about the lockdown, considering that Sweden basically didn’t (and their COVID death rate was much lower than regions that did). Well, Sweden is cashless: there’s no need for lockdowns when all citizens’ purchases and whereabouts can be surveilled. Public health, after all, is just a pretext for instituting a locked-down 24/7 surveillance state.

Tight, Gloomy Doom Metal and Psychedelia From Florida Swampland Band the Doomsday Rejects

Sludgy heavy psychedelic band band the Doomsday Rejects got their start playing at the edge of the Everglades amid rising swamp gases. What does a band sound like when weed mixes with methane? Their menacing new album Six Hundred – streaming at Bandcamp – might be the answer.

The first track is Burn. Jason Morgan’s growling bass and guitarist Roland Dean’s slurry chords and Stoogoid wah riffage prowl hypnotically over drummer Capo’s slow, steady sway, frontman Lenny Smith weaving in and out with his apocalyptic rasp. Much as this band likes long, spacious, psychedelic interludes, they have a tight, no-wasted-notes focus and riffs that will still be hammering your brain after the album’s over.

Brujas de Montana has more of a bludgeoning Orange Goblin fuzztone sway, but also hits an unexpectedly anthemic peak after the first series of twin guitar-bass riffs. These guys know every classic heavy psych trick in the book.

Open Your Eyes is a lot faster but even more hypnotic, decaying to a stygian halfspeed break with downtuned bass and a tantalizingly brief guitar solo. Devil’s Candy is a funny, slow march that could be a video game theme. Likewise, Satan’s Panopticom, a sludgy, brief death metal number: definitely a song title for our time, huh?

Built around a creepy chromatic riff and flaring guitar multitracks, Dementia 666 is the most menacingly catchy song on the album. The album’s most epic and psychedelic number is Tlazolteotl Holy Excrement, shifting between halfspeed and then back to a grimly martial swing.

There’s also a pretty straight-up cover of Black Sabbath’s After Forever – you know, the one that gets unexpectedly religious after “Would you like to see the Pope at the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?” This band’s rhythm section nails the same swinging groove that Geezer Butler and Bill Ward used on the original; true to Ozzy’s original vocals, White sings into a fan.

Haunting, Wildly Psychedelic East African Sounds Rescued From an Obscure Archive in Djibouti

Many emerging African nations in the 60s and 70s had a national band. Those were typically established by newly independent regimes, to help concretize a national identity in areas which had been balkanized by Western imperialists. While those groups may have been founded and then exploited for propaganda purposes, their music was often very good, and fascinatingly cross-pollinated. One of the most intriguing was from Djibouti.

That country’s group, 4 Mars’ bandname commemorates the founding date of the ruling People’s Rally for Progress party there. What makes this music so unique is not only the haunting chromatics common throughout what is now Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, but also the global influences that passed through Djibouti’s ports. For centuries, the region has been a major Indian Ocean commercial hub: no wonder the Chinese Communists are building a naval base there.

In a much more fortuitous and peaceful development, the American firm Ostinato Records recently gained access to the massive archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti and is mining the collection for all sorts of treasures never before heard outside the country. The new 4 Mars compilation Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tjadoura – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first release, comprising both studio and concert recordings made by the regional supergroup between 1977 and 1994.

A couple of the cuts here are questionable: how appropriate is it to include a tribute to a repressive political figure? Sure, the praise-song tradition in Africa goes back centuries. But comparatively speaking, does the inclusion of Dixie in an anthology of American folk songs enhance the album’s historical value…or compromise it ethically and esthetically?

The album’s opening track, simply titled Natesha (Compassion) sets the stage: a Bollywood-influenced, melismatic chanteuse out front of what sounds like a lo-fi, vintage synth-driven roots reggae band playing a dark minor-key groove. That beat is actually dhaanto, an ancient East African rhythm that eventually made its way to Jamaica.

The quasi-reggae pulse gets more organic, with swirly organ, spare bass, trebly tremolo guitar and one-drop drums in the epic, almost ten-minute Hobolayee Nabadu (Hello Peace). The group’s saxophonist, Mohamed Abdi Alto – who now leads the excellent Groupe RTD – plays spare, biting minor-key riffs and remains an often haunting presence on many of these tracks.

Dhulika Hooyo (Motherland) is cheerier, with more surreal harmonies and a massed choir which could be half kids: at their peak, the group comprised more than forty members including dancers. How powerful is Tamarta (Power)? Not so much: this is one of the more synthy tracks, guy/girl vocals matched by tradeoffs between flute and keys, shifting to an unexpected latin soul-inflected groove.

Daroor (rough translation: Drought) has a loping, vaudevillian beat behind the Bollywood-style vocals. The number after that is faster: imagine Fela playing rocksteady. The song for an iron-fisted Djiboutien ruler has more of a strut and is a lot shorter. Likewise, the pulse of Lana Rabeen Karo (It Cannot Be Desired), a long one-chord jam which seems less forced: one thing that definitely can’t be desired is having to sing for a dictator.

Tellingly, the female singers are missing until a couple of minutes into the even more disturbingly titled Tilman Baa Lagu Socdaa (Follow the Rules). Like several of the reggae-ish tracks here, Inkaar Walid (The Elders’ Curse) could be a Burning Spear anthem with surreal Chinese flute and Balkan pop influences.

The broodingly catchy Abaal (Gratitude) seems to be of the same early 80s-tinged vintage as the album’s opening number, with flaring metal guitar, warpy synth and hasty, overcompressed lo-fi production. An acerbically modal traditional wedding song gets a bouncy, electric update with keening flute and synth along with more Ethiopian-flavored vocals: it’s arguably the catchiest track here. The concluding epic is a real departure, a melancholy, pentatonic Chinese ballad. Goes to show what a range of flavors the trade winds will blow in. Let’s hope for winds of trade rather than winds of war in that part of the world in the coming years.

Cypriot Psychedelic Mastermind Perseveres With a New Solo Album

Of all the parts of the world where the lockdowner takeover has been the most sadistic, Cyprus has suffered as greatly as any nation outside of Communist China or Australia. As you would expect, multi-instrumentalist Antonis Antoniou‘s two psychedelic bands – Trio Tekke and Monsieur Doumani – have been put on ice until his home turf is liberated. In the meantime, he hasn’t stopped making music. His new solo album Kkismettin – streaming at Spotify – has the same edgy, chromatically-fueled drive and trippy textures as his full-band work, drawing on influences as diverse as classic Greek psychedelic rock, music from across the Balkans, and old rembetiko hash-smoking and revolutionary anthems. Here, he’s a one-man psychedelic band on lute, bass, keys and percussion.

In the opening track, Livarin, an electric lute melody rings out amid woozy synth multitracks and a mix of electronic and organic beats, some of which which Antoniou plays on the metal trashcans used as barriers on his native island (oldschool pre-lockdown divide-and-conquer mechanism).

The second tune, Ttappa Kato, has a deliciously loopy, shiveringly slinky chromatic bounce. The album’s title track has a whispery, conspiratorial ambience, built around a thicket of percussion, tremoloing bass and wah-wah textures.

Angali, an instrumental, has a loopy cheer and a sonic artichoke of dubwise layers. Antoniou picks up the pace with the ridiculously anthemic Ksimeroman, which brings to mind King Gizzard at their trippiest and most Turkish-influenced.

Gritty, jagged riffs pierce the echoey, ominously loopy atmosphere in the next track, Baris as Antoniou makes a big anthem out of it. Doulia has a groove that undulates somewhere between rai and cumbia, along with allusively chromatic hammer-on lute riffage. The swirl and boom hit a psychedelic peak in Varella, followed by Djinorkes Meres, the starkest and most distinctly rembetiko-ish number here.

Antoniou winds up the record with Achtina, his darkly twangy, incisive electric lute awash in dense atmospherics. This isn’t just for fans of Aegean music: if psychedelic rock, Balkan or Middle Eastern music is your jam, crank this strange and surreal mix. May we all be able to find inspiration and hope for the future in the darkest of times just as Antoniou has here.

The Latest Dose of Brown Acid: Trippier and More Amusing Than Ever

Over the course of eleven volumes, the Brown Acid compilations have rescued well over a hundred incredibly obscure proto-metal, psychedelic and soul songs from oblivion. Some of the original copies of those records go for thousands of dollars on the collector market, but the better part of this wild archive, from some of the most unlikely places on this continent, never reached beyond a small fan base. The loosely connecting thread here is the stoner factor. To celebrate 4/20 – and the de facto legalization of weed in New York this year – Riding Easy Records are releasing the twelfth “trip” in the series, streaming at Bandcamp. In keeping with a hallowed tradition, every volume is available on vinyl.

Is this the point where the bowl is finally cashed? Are we scraping the bong yet? No, although there are more WTF moments here than usual. Intentionally or not, this is one of the funniest mixes in the series.

Louisville power trio the Waters open the playlist with their 1969 single Mother Samwell: it sounds like the Yardbirds spun through a flange, panning the speakers. The bass player – who would go on to play with Hank Williams Jr. – is excellent, although he totally misses his cue right before the fade. Classic Brown Acid moment.

The Village S.T.O.P., from Hamilton, Ontario nick a famous Beatles playground riff – plus maybe a little Iron Butterfly – for their 1969 wah-wah tune Vibration. Minneapolis band White Lightning hit a chilling lyrical peak in 1930, a Move-inspired protest song whose anti-Vietnam War message resonates more than ever half a century later: “I’m not going to die for your greed!”

Bay Area heavy soul band Shane’s lone 1968 single, a one-chord jam, is a badly recorded mess. Another 1968 rediscovery, Dallas group Ace Song Service’s organ-fueled Persuasion is a more successfully trippy take on the same style. The compilation reaches outside the US in a rare moment for yet another one-chord jam, Belgian band Opus Est’s ridiculously PG-rated faux-risque 1974 single, Bed, which sadly never reached its intended audience of American thirteen-year-olds.

Hawaiian band the Mopptops contribute Our Lives, a funky, catchy, organ-fueled populist anthem. In 1977, at the peak of the CBGB era, Youngstown, Ohio’s Artist were still ripping off Hendrix, as evidenced by the innuendo-fueled Every Lady Does It.

Carthage, Missouri power trio Stagefright distinguish themselves with their tumbling drums (that’s frontman Jim Mills) in Comin’ Home, the compilation’s first foray into the 80s. And this is where the album ought to end: NRBQ’s lame, pseudonymous attempt to parody early 70s heavy psych sounds is as weak as everything else they ever did. Whatever the case, you don’t have to be high to get into this playlist: it sounds perfectly good after a couple of whiskies.

Malian Guitar Powerhouse Makes a Welcome Return, More Psychedelic Than Ever

The backstory to Malian guitarslinger Anansy Cissé’s new album Anoura (Songhai for “Light” and streaming at Spotify) is a very troubling, but ultimately triumphant one. He’d already recorded some of it by 2018, when he was invited to play a festival in his hometown near Timbuktu. On the way there, he and his band were attacked and abducted by thugs, who destroyed his equipment. Devastated, Cissé shelved the project and retreated to doing studio production work. But he recovered, regrouped the band and the result is a cutting-edge, deliciously psychedelic album.

The instrumentation reflects Cissé’s blend of traditional desert sounds and jamband rock. Abdoulaye Kone and Bakari Diarra share the ngoni chair, with Abrahmane Toure on bass, Mahalmadane Traore on percussion and bass as well, with the late Zoumana Tereta on single-string soku fiddle on two tracks, quite possibly the Malian master’s final studio appearance.

They open the album with Tiawo (Education), Cissé essentially telling everybody to free themselves from mental slavery over a slowly swaying, melancholy minor-key vamp, his web of reverbtoned washes, skittishly loopy riffs and searing, distorted hammer-ons contrasting with the spiky ngoni.

He follows with a couple of festival anthems. Foussa Foussa, a catchy, neon-lit roadhouse blues shuffle returned closer to its roots, has more of those blazing, reverb-infused riffs and a sly dub breakdown. Tiara has tricky syncopation that reminds of the Grateful Dead during their late 60s flirtation with Indian music, plus trippy sheets of feedback and distortion filtering behind the intertwine of overdubs.

Cissé, a shout-out to his marabout ancestors, has a relaxed, hypnotically loping groove and a gentle call-and-response, enhanced by the looming reverb riffs throughout the sonic picture. Mina, the album’s most bizarre mashup, is a brisk minor-key stoner boogie awash in wah-wah and buzzy distortion.

The band return to more stark, darkly lingering ambience with Nafa (Patience), complete with icy gothic chorus-box bass. Tereta’s acidic, trumpet-like melismas raise the energy in the acoustic-electric textures of Talka (Poverty). For whatever reason, Balkissa, a love song to Cissé’s wife, is the most anthemic and rock-oriented track here.

Nia (Mothers) has the most richly melodic blend of simmering, jangly harmonies and multitracks, Tereta’s soku adding ghostly texture in the back of the mix. The message of the album’s slowly crescendoing final cut, Djam Maganouna is basically “you’re a creep, and people have long memories.” May we all live long enough to have memories of this album…and get to enjoy another one from this irrepressibly creative guitarist.

Playful, Gently Trippy Dance Tunes and Neosoul From Kalbells

Kalbells play psychedelic funk and neosoul. They’re a road-warrior supergroup: Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver fronts the band with her cheery, chipper vocals, alongside Okkervil River keyboardist Sarah Pedinotti, Angelica Bess of Body Language and drummer Zoë Brecher of Hushpuppy. Their new album Max Heart is streaming at Bandcamp. This stuff is all about trippy textures and messing with your head: airy highs, reverb and uncluttered dance beats all figure into their web of sound. This is a good party record but it works just as well as chillout music.

Lush string synth joins the twinkly electric piano, Bernie Worrell-esque keyb flourishes, and fluttering flute in the opening track, Red Marker, Traver’s bandmates’ harmonies wafting behind her vocals. The song seems to be about picking up the pieces and moving on.

Traver testifies gently to the therapeutic effects of blowing some notes out into the street in Flute Windows Open In the Rain, exchanging phrases with thoughtful sax over an altered oldschool disco groove. Purplepink has a muted but resolutely funky strut and a slit-eyed, sunbaked guitar solo.

Twinkling keys return over a spare, steady beat and increasingly lush keys in Poppy Tree. Dancing along over some catchy bass octaves, Hump the Beach is just as hypnotic as it is catchy.

Pickles is the album’s funniest track: without giving anything away, it’s metaphorical and features a cameo by hip-hop artist Miss Eaves.

Brecher supplies an elegantly rattling Afrobeat rhythm to anchor the blippy, playful textures of Bubbles. Big Lake is closer to four-on-the-floor, with a catchy, leaping bassline and enveloping harmonies.

Diagram of Me Sleeping is a slow jam that gets funnier the more closely you listen to the lyrics – although that whistling is annoying. The band wind up the album with the defiantly anthemic, whimsically ornamented title track.

Lingering Mystery and Lynchian Sonics From the Royal Arctic Institute

If you have to hang a label on the Royal Arctic Institute, you could call them a cinematic surf band. They have a Lynchian side, a jazzy side and also a space-surf side. Their latest album Sodium Light is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, the vampy Prince of Wisconsin has an easygoing sway, Gramercy Arms keyboardist Carl Bagaly’s bubbly Rhodes piano giving way to bandleader John Leon’s reverby twang and then grit. The distant wistfulness in Christmases At Sea is visceral, the jangly mingle of guitar over David Motamed’s tense bass pulse and Lyle Hysen’s muted drums.

We Begin on Familiar Ground is a real chiller: the big bite at the beginning is just a hint of what’s to come over spare, creepy, mutedly lingering ambience. The trick ending, and the searing guitar solo from And the Wiremen‘s Lynn Wright, are just plain awesome. Is this a lockdown parable? Who knows: the album was recorded clandestinely somewhere in the tri-state area last year.

The fourth track, Different in Sodium Light is a return to balmy Summer Place calm, Wright adding just a tinge of ominousness with his elegant solo. The final cut, Tomorrowmorrowland is the closest thing here to And the Wiremen’s ominous, Morricone-esque southwestern gothic, with a slashing organ break. On a very short list of rock albums released in 2021 so far, this is one of the best.. And it’s available on cassette!