Naðra – “Allir Vegir Til Glötunar” (2016)

This is the last of the tapes I ordered from the Icelandic metal label Vánagandr a few weeks back. I reviewed and enjoyed another Naðra tape a while ago, 2014s Eitur, so I was looking forward to hearing some new material from these black metal soul crushers.

Lately it seems like a lot of the black metal I’ve been hearing is slow and heavy, musically reminding me more of doom than anything else, but that’s not the case with Allir Vegir Til Glötunar which comes at you full force right out of the gate with merciless despair and anger. I wondered if the marathon side A closer “Falið” was going to venture into the slower, more plodding style given it’s 14+ minute length, but no, no sir, not at all. There are some gothic elements to it with some soaring, moaning backing vocals, but it’s still a full frontal assault on your ears and soul, all crashing drums and screaming. (♠) What I enjoy most about Naðra, beyond their musical talent, is their pacing. Not with a molasses-like slowness than lulls you to sleep, nor with so much speed that you aren’t getting so much a song as a wall of pure noise, but somewhere in between, a place that maintains heaviness and machine gun drumming while keeping it all on the rails and musical.

You can check out Allir Vegir Til Glötunar for free HERE, and there is a vinyl version as well put out by Fallen Empire if you want to go that route.

(♠) OK, it does slow down a bit in the middle, but never gets down to that sludgy doom crawl.

SOJA – “Strength to Survive” (2012)

On one of my seemingly countless trips to Los Angeles my friend Kris and I drove to Hollywood one evening to hit up Amoeba Music. Kris (aka “Mr. Jam”) and I bonded over music during our mutual participation in the multi-year project we’re working, so it seemed natural to head out to Amoeba and do some vinyl shopping together. To make it a bit more interesting, we also decided that each of us would select one album that we love and the other person would buy it for themselves and check out. For Mr. Jam’s listening pleasure I selected Kiasmos‘ 2014 debut LP; for me he selected SOJA’s Strength to Survive.

SOJA (Soldiers of Jah Army) are a reggae collective from the Washington DC area who have been pretty active for the last two decades, releasing seven albums and touring near continuously. Strength to Survive was their sixth effort, a 13-song double album that comes with a CD copy inside as well as a download card for a few additional tracks, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

Musically Strength to Survive is pretty chill, a sort of relaxed yet upbeat-sounding style of reggae that doesn’t put too much emphasis on the low end. While that may not sound classically reggae, lyrically SOJA are right on point with their use of social commentary and introspection. The lyrics feel like real expressions of love, concern, frustration, uncertainty… you name it, all of it feels genuine.

A nice album, and one that feels like it will benefit from repeated listenings because of how important the lyrics are to the songs.

Shriekback – “Tench” (1982)

Tench was the first album by the UK’s Shriekback, a six-song record that falls into the gray area between being an EP or a LP. I first stumbled onto the band due to its inclusion in the brilliant Sherwood at the Controls, Vol. 1: 1979-1984 that came out last year, and a few nights after hearing them for the first time ran across copies of a couple of their albums at a record store in, of all places, Oklahoma City. I’ve kept my eyes peeled ever since for any more of their early stuff, so I was quite pleased when I found Tench in the New Arrivals bin at Amoeba Music the other day. It was a no-brainer.

These songs are a bit of trip even without the Adrian Sherwood treatment. “Sexthinkone” is probably the most well known song on Tench, with it’s funky bass line and deep, melancholy vocals, but for my money I prefer songs like “All the Greek Boys (Do the Handwalk),” which is like some kind of post-punkish, slowed down Pet Shop Boys tune, all moody and echoey and dark. The pace picks up a bit with the B side opener “Accretions” (♠) with it’s dance-floor-ready bass, and the bass line stays funky as hell on the more restrained “Mothloop.” It wraps up with the odd “Here Comes My Hand-Clap” which feels more like a concept for a song as opposed to a completed work, but there it is, leaving you wondering.

(♠) Note that the track order is different depending on which version of this record you have. The US and French versions have the sides flip-flopped compared to the UK and Dutch releases, so what is side A on the UK release is side B on the US.

The Telepaths – “Frozen Darling” b/w “Must I Perform” (1978)

Seattle wasn’t a particularly hip place in the late 1970s, still seen as the hinterlands by most of America and probably only known for Boeing and University of Washington Huskies football. A little tech company called Microsoft was just starting out, but no one had any idea as to what a juggernaut it would become. It’s only major league team for most of the decade was the NBA’s Supersonics who closed out the decade by winning the league championship, the city’s first major league title since hockey’s Seattle Metropolitans hoisted the Stanley Cup all the way back in 1917, and its last until the Seahawks finally won a Super Bowl in 2013 (that’s right kids, three major professional sports championships in 100 years…).

Seattle in the 1970s was a city that didn’t have a lot to cheer for.

It was also very behind the times musically. While other cities established some musical subcultures, you could have probably fit all of Seattle’s punks inside a school bus (OK, maybe two school buses). But if you want to get to the roots of what later became the grunge scene in the city, you have to go back to these earliest punks, further back than Green River, further back than the Melvins. All the way back to what was arguably Seattle’s first punk rock show, the “TMT Show” on May 1, 1976.

One of the trio of bands that played that night was The Telepaths, and it just so happens that they also left behind a 7″ recorded in 1978 to document their existence. I came across this via a Facebook group – a local collector had a few of these along with some original advertising posters for the Seattle Syndrome compilation he was selling, and I was fortunate enough to pick up one of each. I won’t lie – I was probably more excited about the Seattle Syndrome poster, which I got framed today and up on my wall (see above). As for the 7″, I unknowingly cut my finger while opening the box and subsequently bled all over the faded white paper sleeve, which I guess is kind of punk rock in a way.

This 1978 version of The Telepaths does not sound very punk rock. They sound very folk/prog rock, so I’m not quite sure what the story is here. At one point the vocals reference screaming peacocks. I seriously don’t know what’s happening here, but it’s bizarre. There’s probably a hint of the Velvet Underground, and maybe a whiff of the Doors at their trippiest, but man, it’s just unusual.

This 7″ came out shortly before the band broke up, reforming later as the post-punkish group The Blackouts, a much better outfit in my opinion. Still glad to get my hands on this OG Seattle recording though, regardless of its level of bizarreness.

Manuel Göttsching – “E2-E4” (1984 / 2016)

There are, I believe, something like 20 opening moves possible for white to play in a chess game. Sixteen of these involve pawns, the other four knights jumping over the pawn line. E2-E4 (shown left), aka the King’s Pawn Game, is arguably the strongest of these openers, moving the king’s pawn two spaces forward. The move not only opens diagonal routes out of the back rank for both the queen and king’s bishop, but it also makes a bold move to assert pressure by the pawn on the center four squares of the board. There are other very strong opening moves (most notably D2-D4), and hey, it’s just the first move, so there’s still plenty of chess left, (♠) but at the end of the day E2-E4 is an aggressive move that says, “hey man, I came to party, so let’s get it on”.

E2-E4 is also a pivotal 1984 prog/electro album by German Manuel Göttsching, a record that was an important influence on early house and techno. Lately it’s been getting a lot of props on record geek boards like Facebook’s “Now Playing,” in large part because it just got the high end vinyl re-release treatment by MG.ART, and that’s how I came to acquire my copy from Amoeba’s Hollywood location the other day. I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to buy it.

The album opens with the near-perfect groove of “Ruhige Nervosität”, a pattern I know I’ve heard before on a handful of electro tunes…. maybe early Gusgus – simple, basic, consistent. How is it possible that a man best known as a guitarist put out an seminal album in a very non-guitar genre? I don’t know. It’s not that there isn’t any guitar at all… it sneaks in at the very end of side A, after all (and the opening of side B, where he really gets into it). I wasn’t good enough at one instrument, despite my attempts at the violin and clarinet, let alone have the ability to be outstanding at one instrument and then just go off and break ground in a totally different genre. (♥) To have that level of talent would be amazing.

Technically there are nine tracks on E2-E4, but in reality it’s one long composition to my ears – there’s no stopping point other than when you have to flip the record, and side B picks up right where side A left off. It’s flat out crazy, too. Most of side A an electronic album, with just a tiny bit of guitar as it winds down, and then side B has a whole electro-flamenco vibe to it that is just awesome and gives it character. And it’s brilliant.

This is one of those albums that lives up to the hype. E2-E4. Develop your attack.

(♠) True story, I once won a game of chess in three moves playing as white, which is literally the shortest possible game. Black has to make two awful pawn moves for this to happen, and I’d actually read about this sequence before it actually presented itself to me in an actual game (♣), so it was amazing to execute it.

(♣) I literally had a chess library in high school. Still sucked at chess… but had a lot of books.

(♥) I do, however, have some pretty strong spreadsheet skills which I have parlayed into a number of divergent areas.