KARMA TO BURN: live

KARMA TO BURN with DESERT STORM at The Cellar, Oxford, June 27 2018.

This is a billing you really don’t wanna miss. Oxford wrecking merchants Desert Storm hook up with hard rock legends Karma to Burn in the none-more-suitable confines of the Cellar.

So. Desert Storm. Drunk-en shambollock. No, hang on – that’s Uncle Will, buffering across the stage mid-set to ruffle everyone’s hair. What we really mean is, DESERT FUCKING STORM: another titanic chunk of metallic heft that pummels and grooves in all the right places, same as it ever did. Journey’s End is the opener, just as it is for new album Sentinels, and it’s a forceful declaration, launching a set that draws heavily on Sentinels and rightly bloody so because it’s a heavyweight beast. Too Far Gone, The Brawl and Gearhead are, if memory serves, among the other new tracks thrown in with old familiars, but it’s the textured maturity of Kingdom of Horns that really leaps out, as it does on the album. What more to say? Another awe-tastic Desert Storm offensive.

Karma to Burn next, straight outta West Virginia-ish. Will they conquer too?

Yes. And no.

Karma to Burn logo

The yes is for other people. Cellar crowd rocks out to Forty Four, Thirteen, Eight, Twenty One and whatever the hell else got played. Cellar Loves Karma.

The NO? That’s mine, and it doesn’t feel great to say it. There’s a ton of love for the band from here got the albums on heavy rotation ahead of the gig, finally wrapped up a long-unfinished lost-classic style review of their debut, and am definitely over the karaoke Karma experience of 2013. This one feels RIGHT, especially with Desert Storm upfront. Anticipation is high again.

But that moment when KTB’s Will Mecum wandered through the DS stage, warning bells rang because he looked pretty hammered already. Not fall-over gone, but wavering down the slow-focus end of beered/whatevered. What that means, when Karma to Burn take the stage, is that those mountain ‘spired riffs are crunched and amped and sound right enough, and Eric Cutter and a hulking Evan Devine give it plenty, but it just doesn’t look right – because the guy on guitar lets the riffs do the work without working the riffs. Instead of some attack and right-now presence from THE Karma originator and (let’s be honest) focal point, we got a slow drawling geezer who wasn’t bad but was on muscle-memory auto. It was a distraction and I couldn’t shake it. Funny how, when the music’s all there is – and that is literally true of this band – it ends up not being just about the music. You gotta show up, you gotta PLAY. Like it means something.

So, it wound up feeling like another karaoke job. Twice a bit burned, now. Any more? Better instead to savour clips like this from just a couple of years ago or recall a more vital show you’ve got lodged in the vault of memories (Audioscope 2011 for me: amps stacked higher than the stage was wide, full force rocking in your facials. Much more like it.)

RETURN OF THE PIGS

JUNE REWIND: ISRAEL NASH ON STAGE. PIGSX7 RETURN.

Israel Nash plays Oxford, so do Karma to Burn (review on its way), QOTSA hit London (ditto), and we’ve two – count ’em – chunks of brutish rage to skid-mark for thine ear. They’re not exactly heatwave music, but Israel Nash is, so let’s go there first.

Israel Nash – The Bullingdon, Oxford, June 14 2018
Looking for the sound of summer? You can do a lot worse – and maybe not a lot better – than plug into Israel Nash’s Silver Season, his 2015 album. It captures the sliding, gliding country peaks and pedal steel that Neil Young/CSN scaled on select tracks, but Nash (Israel) makes a complete album’s worth of these near-cosmic shimmers.

Tonight’s show is just Nash, his acoustic and harmonica, and his new-found friends (us). He’s such a generous presence – one of the world’s people people – that you can’t help but like the guy, and his home-on-the-ranch tales of recording, touring and parenthood confirm a nature-loving music-loving spirituality. Here’s a guy who wants to create moments and make them special, which is probably why he steps off stage and into the middle of the crowd to play a couple of tracks with audience accompaniment. Tambourine Jam, he calls it, putting a call out for two percussionists to join him, though the Bullingdon is clearly short of wannabe musos tonight as it takes a bit of coaxing to get the volunteers. “Do what feels right” is the only instruction to his new two-song backing band, and they do. It works.

While Nash is a magnet for warmth and exudes mellow positivity, the music – to me – loses something when reduced to a one-man acoustic strum-only, because the very thing that makes the last two albums such a draw is the richness of a big-sounding, expansive band playing with blissed-out restraint. Still, the chance to hang out in Israel’s company is not one to pass up. There’s a lot of feelgood in here.

OK, on to a couple of new tunes with a more raucous bent – something international, something north east England.

Advent of Bedlam – A Human Farm
Swept up in Stuart Maconie’s World Cup Freakzone, which featured music from all the countries playing in the group stages, this corrosive discharge of extreme metal cuffed the ear more than many this month. Advent of Bedlam are from Costa Rica, their third album is out now, and this track is a precise, punishing fix of blackened deathly thrash. Advent of Bedlam bandcamp right here.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Cake of Light
big big big big big big big noise from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Cake of Light, the lead single from their forthcoming new album, has been aired in a world exclusive by Mary Anne Hobbs on BBC 6Music (2 hours 49 minutes in, after the Manics), and it doesn’t break the previous Pigs’ mould, thank fuck – slamming post-Sabbath doom mono-liffic that just about stops short of collapsing into the void. A howling, raging catharsis. Splendid. They’ve just stuck it up on Bandcamp, album due out in September.

Right, that’s it for June – a short fast ugly Rewind, live reviews on the way.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

KARMA TO BURN: Karma to Burn

Long before they became road warriors for centre-line rifferola shorn of all but rock’s barest necessities – guitar, drum, bass, no words, no solos – Karma to Burn were a different beast for one record only: their first one, cut loose in 1997 by Roadrunner Records, and a lost classic by anyone’s measure.

It’s the anomaly in the Karma catalogue. But is it the best thing they ever did?

Karma to Burn debut album cover

The Karma to Burn debut: a masterpiece. Except for the cheap-tack artwork

Emerging into the late 90s post-desert/post-Seattle vista, their first album drew on both of those scenes but twisted them just enough to make a record that had its own identity – like it belonged with them, but stood in its own space too. Less geologically huge than the Kyuss behemoth, and far less self conscious than the grunge second wave, KTB’s debut flickers with goth-ish smalltown shadows.

Contributing to this is the very thing they’re best known for not having: a singer. Though there were short-lived links to John Garcia back in the day (revived later with 2010’s on-form Appalachian Incantations bonus disc), the vocalist on Karma’s first full-length is Jay Jarosz, who… well, exactly. WHO? No idea. But his boot-scraping drawl more than does the job on the debut, especially on Joy Division’s Twenty Four Hours. Can you imagine John Garcia laying into that with his desert-dried sandpapered pipes? Me neither. You need some sort of anonymity to pull that source off, and by my reckoning Jarosz nails it right on.

Opening tracks Ma Petit Mort and Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi (I’m Not God) are – musically – pure Karma, shoved along by Will Mecum’s pile-driver rhythm, but the difference between Karma Then and Karma Ever Since lies in where those tracks go. They don’t end as they start. Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi has not one but TWO singers (heresy?) and the two-pronged vocal fork turns it into a wild eyed anthem, with Octavia Lambertis’s untamed soar flying strato-high while Jarosz hauls it out by the baritones. It’s about as far away as you could get from the later Karma to Burn ethos, but you can hear the track in three-piece instrumental form easily enough. It turns up just a year later, retitled as Three, at the back end of Wild Wild Purgatory (KTB have a habit of rerecording their own stuff). Is it good? Sure. Better? No, but we’ll get to that later.

Back in Debut Land, we’ve got atmos to contend with – Six Gun Sucker Punch flips from lysergic stupor to switchblade aggro, while (Waltz of the) Playboy Pallbearers lures like a serial killer, and it’s moments like these that define the KTB debut. The smell of Nowhere, USA, the faint bad-head of trippy ingestion. You can feel it in the hazed start to Mt Penetrator. Where Kyuss cranked it up in the desert night so they could jam colossal, Karma to Burn sound like they retreat to the foothills to pour moonshine, do ouija and break shit. Or people.

Tracks five, nine and twelve are the instrumentals – Eight, Thirteen and Six, if you want their titles – and though this shows where Karma were heading, we didn’t know that back then, and we definitely didn’t know that numbered instrumentals would become EVERYTHING. Again, we gotta mention Kyuss because they’d already set a high bar for wordless segues like Caterpillar March on Blues for the Red Sun, and Corrosion of Conformity and Down were putting instrumentals in records just like Sabbath and Zep did decades earlier. Riff masters, all. But Caterpillar sounds like it was always meant to be an instrumental, as do Without Wings and 2121313 from CoC’s Deliverance. Karma to Burn’s Eight doesn’t. Eight is a full-length, full-form track with verse-bridge-chorus bits in all the right places – it just doesn’t have any vocals. Which could be a bit lacking, right? But somehow, it lacks nothing. It really fucking works, as do Thirteen and Six.

In fact, everything works. No sub-par moments, no boredom drop offs, and the moodier turns – Joy Division especially – could only have been pulled off by this version of the band: the one with the singer. It’s those shades and shifts that make Karma to Burn’s debut more of a complete listening experience than the riff-onlys that came after, and that’s why it’s the album that gives the most. Sez me, anyway.

But is it the real Karma to Burn?

You gotta say no. The singer was a record-label compromise, and if you’ve ever caught the band on a good night backed by stacks of amps, you’ll know that stripped and lean is where it’s at.

And there lies the Karma to Burn paradox.

To be continued???

KARMA TO BURN PLAY THE CELLAR IN OXFORD, JUNE 27 2018. DESERT STORM ON SUPPORT DUTY. DO NOT MISS

ROBERT PLANT: live

ROBERT PLANT AND THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS
Bath Festival Finale Weekend, Bath Spa, May 27 2018

This gig feels like a massive, swollen-ball bonus in the music lottery. After last year’s tour date prices shot out of reach just a few hours after going on sale, it seemed that Robert Plant would be hard to catch on the road, but a few 2018 festival dates means the Bath Festival Finale Weekend drops us in an oddly cozy outdoor setting with Bath Spa as a 360-degree backdrop. It’s welcoming and inviting, packed with roots and history.

A bit like the music we’re about to hear, right?

Link Wray’s 1958 strut Rumble is the walk-on track and our headliners kick things off with signature Zep II blueser, The Lemon Song. Didn’t see that one coming, but you know the Space Shifters’ score by now – whatever feels right IS right, and their gigs are never less than immersive. You jump in for the ride and see where it goes, knowing roughly – but not exactly – where you might end up. After The Lemon Song and Turn It Up, that ride takes in Carry Fire, Lullaby…and the Ceaseless Roar, Led Zeppelins I-II-III-IV and Dreamland with just one other stop – Nashville/Clarksdale for Please Read the Letter. Introduced with an Alison Krauss anecdote and an impish “written by two geniuses” quip, it’s big and full-some, but Gallows Pole is the first gig moment, a gallop that drops all downtempo parts and pelts it from the off, fired by Seth Lakeman’s fiddle. After that, Carry Fire’s entrancing trip is widescreen heavy, and again Lakeman is central.

A brace of less-riffsome Zep tracks – Going to California and Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You – give Skin a chance to pick ‘n’ psyche, Little Maggie brings worldly beats, and the main set wraps with Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die). On the Dreamland record, it’s dusty, urgent, trancey. Here, it’s a toughed-up rock ‘n’ roller pushed by shuffling Radar Love drum patterns, and it’s stuff like this that make the Space Shifters a proper live experience. You don’t get the same old shit. They play with a Right Now vibe, locked in music’s moment whether it’s rock and roll, Touareg blues, Bristolian beats, misty mountain folk, Nashville/Appalachia or Zep perennials, or any mix they see fit to run with.

And Plant? His voice is bang on, as it has been since the first days of Strange Sensation in 2002. Of all the people from rock and pop’s first wave of mega bands, he, surely, is the one doing things with the most class, and though he’ll be leaving his 60s in a couple of months, he doesn’t look like he’s gonna wobble. No way.

If the encore brings the one dead cert in a Space Shifters gig – Whole Lotta Love – then the other near-cert is that it won’t follow the previous tour’s version, and it doesn’t. Out goes the slow desert intro. In comes the underplayed crunch of Bring It On Home ahead of THAT riff. Segue or what? Lakeman owns the theramin/ritti slot and all is well until the climactic home run gets cut short when half the band stop early. “I think that’s it,” says Plant of the ragged end. “Looks like we’ve fucking finished.”

Does anyone care? Not out here, not a bit, and though it’s not the trippiest or out-there of Shape Shifter sets, nor is it too obvious a crowd-pleaser. As ever, Plant and the Sensational ones keep finding extra gears to cover more miles in music’s adventures.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters tour t shirt 2018

Who else?

The set list went something like this:

The Lemon Song
Turn It Up
Rainbow
The May Queen
Please Read the Letter
Going to California
Gallows Pole
Carry Fire
Little Maggie
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
Funny in my Mind (I Believe I’m Fixing to Die)
***
Bring it on Home/Whole Lotta Love

BLANCK METAL

MAY REWIND: OH SEES, KAMASI, BLANCK MASS AND KING OF THE SLUMS NEW SOUNDS

Plenty of May thrills, not least a Bank Holiday live showing by Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters (hello to The May Queen, review is on its way) and a nod to Chris Cornell one year on, but in this Rewind we’ll ponder a few full-on tunes that made the right impression.

Oh Sees – Overthrown
Man alive. Dwyer and co follow a scorched earth policy on Overthrown, channelling some reckless Motorhead speed for a nail-hard tip to the frazzled end of the Oh Sees spectrum. Annihilation psyche. Remember those Westerns where a gunslinger thug makes some poor sap dance for his life by shooting at his soles? The drums are like that guy’s feet. But faster. Dancing on sparks from Comets of Fire, it’s a fine teaser for the next Oh Sees splatter, due in August. Fierce-fried full-on.

Kamasi Washington – Fist of Fury
There is no jazz expertise or know-how lurking in these words. All I know is, Kamasi Washington is pushing my Amateur Jazz Dabbler button, and his kung-fu reworking Fist of Fury from his upcoming album pricks ears because of a lower-down groove poking its nose out – a 70s funking big band swinging it big time. Fusionly full-on.

Blanck Mass – Odd Scene
Released for Record Store Day, Odd Scene pitches a massive surface-level shift for Blanck Mass. Their electronica draws on heavy dark matter anyway (though last album World Eater still hasn’t clicked over here), but this is no electro-fest – it’s a riotous rage of guitar squalling shitstorms, throat shreds and metallized industrials, like Alec Empire’s noised-up fury flogging a horse called Ministry of Bathory. There’s something hollow about it, but deeper meaning is surely not the point. Violence is. Extreme for extreme’s sake, Blanck Mass have lost the plot and gone full metal jacket. Ferociously full-on.

King of the Slums – The Broken English
Having only got into King of the Slums last year with Manco Diablo, I had no idea of their longer history. Serendipity struck soon after when the Barbarous English Fayre record fell into my hands in Dales record shop in Tenby and laid out a stack of tunes laced with violin. QUEL SURPRISE. Why do I mention this? Because the violin is back – but not at the expense of the metallic walls of axe that so impressed on Manco Diablo, at least not on this track. Violin brings drone and density. Band brings new album Artgod Dogs in June. Fiddlingly full-on.

David Jaycock – Browsing (Non-Fiction)
Another Freakzone find this month was David Jaycock, being interviewed about his new album The Decline of the Mobile Library. Never heard the name before, but if John Fahey or experimental Fahey-inspired pickers like Jack Rose are anywhere in your acoustic orbit, this guy could fit right in. Somewhat paradoxically, Mobile Library is on Static Caravan. Anyway, Browsing (Non Fiction) is here for sampling. Fahey full-on.

Thugwidow – Inverted
JUN-GLE! There’s something of Burial’s night-street melancholia in the intro that gives you a quiet anchor against the hyper-end skitter that skids around the rest of Inverted, and it’s a pretty neat contrast. Hard beats. Mary Anne Hobbs played it last week so check it here 46 minutes in, flanked by The Last Poets and GDFX. Jungle-force full-on.

Right, that’ll have to do – out of time this month, which means no overviews of stellar new TesseracT and GNOD albums.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

SHORTPARIS: nacxa

Restless moves and fidget dance. The underlit Factory warehouse band, fired up by frag-ment-ology. New waves for the art-house in your headspace.

Talkin’ shite. What is Shortparis?

When Mary Anne Hobbs first played them on her 6 Music Recommends show, gushing with unbound enthuso after seeing them destroy some festival or other, she mentioned Joy Division – something about the shadows and the intensity. The track was Beceno (all the titles are in Russian script, which I can’t type properly), and if Beceno is your first Shortparis exposure then it’s damned hard to shake those joy-di visions from your mind’s eye: robust paranoia, unseen twitchiness, confident uncertainty, rock-not-really. Nikolay Komiagin sings with a high pitch that pulls Beth Gibbons’s tense nervosa to mind, and Beceno’s on-the-run mood could fit Portishead’s Third, though it’s the only track that could. The rest of nacxa is way more up. Way more DANCE.

Shortparis: nacxa

Shortparis: twitchy and addictive

But it’s not dance dance. Track 1’s industrial-retro kick with upfront tight-funk bass bounces right back to post-punk – no particular band, more the era and the experimenting vibe. Post-punk something is at play. And then, taut across the tops, is the voice you don’t understand.

Track 2 drops the Horn (Trevor): massive ZTT-style keyboard stabs over stilted bass, gearing up for the Shortparis percussion collective to ramp it up into a worldly electro rhythm thing. It’s a potent mix, perhaps best shown off on the title track – Parisienne nights with dark exotica throb – and the following track’s John Carpenter menace meets Bowie’s Outside: Wishful Beginnings.

Can you pin Shortparis down? Not really. Not beyond a culture-sample soundclash that feels like a guitar band but isn’t. Shortparis ride the fluid, anything-goes rush of Flamingods and Comet is Coming, maybe even Antidote-era Foals, but with different sources. There’s something of the industrial about this lot: danceable, yet not quite celebratory. Primitive. A bit tense.

Download the album and you get two tracks labelled as B-sides at the end. Ma Russie, sung in French, is a synth-heavy funker, and Yqueen ups the machine-rock action with drums that threaten a Nine Inch Nails storm. Shortparis make a global music not ethno-rootsy but rhythm-heavy, urban and nocturnal.

Music for subway nights.

Communal and solitary.

Body music by head people.

(Bowie would have loved it, surely).

John Doran writ large about this crew in the Quietus – a lot of words, if you want to make sense of them – but the album is steal of the year, just TWO DOLLARS at Shortparis bandcamp. Don’t let that price cheapen the quality of your attention, though. This is not background device-filler. Shortparis are onto something special.

DESERT STORMS AND SKELLINGTONS

APRIL REWIND: THE RETURNS OF RECORD STORE DAY, DESERT STORM AND JULIAN COPE. BUT CALEB SCOFIELD DEPARTS.
It was a wet one, but apart from rain, what happened in April?
Record Store Day 11
We love record shops. Never visit a new town without sniffing them out, never pass the chance to frequent the local, and this is why Record Store Day feels like it should be a big deal but ends up being a bit … contrived frothing over forged rarities? Like a weird-o Christmas Day for reco)))rd shoppers. Weird because the list is dished out by $anta well ahead of the day, weird because the toys have been specially made for the event, weird because none of the toys are trulymadlydeeply drawn from your own well. And if you convince yourself into chasing something from this monopoly of taste, and said thing makes it into the shop that day and you’re able to lay fingers on it, you get the privilege of paying through the nostrils. Some Christmas. If you buy CDs and dare not to have a turntable, forget it – zero specials for you, because you are not part of the Record Store Day M.O. It’s a vinyl-only club, a 7–12-inch exclusivity zone roped off from the Greater Good that is music in physical formats. In shops.
So, 2018 played out exactly the same as 2017, just different records to gloss over once the queues had gone. Tom Waits offered a momentary flutter when the Orphans cover loomed, but it was Bawlers, the zero-interest one of the three,. Anyway, just like last year, salvation came from the vinyl sale box where Cannots by Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker popped up – didn’t even know such a thing existed, so it’s a welcome and timely discovery given that Walker’s new album is imminent. Ace find from proper browse. Bye-bye Record Store Day. Hello record shop, next week, as usual.

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker - Cannots LP

This year’s RSD pick-up. From 2016

DESERT STORM: Sentinels
Much more rewarding than RSD’s general waxploitation was Sentinels by Oxford’s own Desert Storm. Fuck me, this is solid. And big. And assured. And if you like your rock to be, er, metallic and groovus, Sentinels should be on your list. When I last saw Desert Storm I vowed to catch up with their albums but, like an arse, I didn’t. Didn’t go beyond Forked Tongues, which is why Sentinels feels like a huger jump. This, surely, is Desert Storm fully formed. The sometimes caricatured vocal tics of the Forked days have gone and Matt Ryan now gives us proper gruff metal range more like the live shows, veering from gut-low ferals to Jaz Coleman anthemics to part-spoken calm. Kingdom of Horns does this brilliantly, a quietly drifting trip that swings a 180 to the other extreme and back.
Tracks like Drifter will no doubt satisfy the Clutch crowd, but Sentinels is more metallic and the closing two tracks, Convulsion and Capsized, showcase Desert Storm’s star quality in 2018. Check the former’s multi-riff orgy – part doomed stoner, part thrash, part Entombed-sized roll – then cruise on Capsized’s slick downtuned power to a closing solo soar worthy of Crippled Black Phoenix. Check it all here, best of luck, fellas.
JULIAN COPE: Skellington 3
He’s back! Last time, it was personal (Skellington 2, 1993). 25 years on, we get the third instalment, a new batch of the Drude’s so-called orphan songs and ‘acid campfire spirit’. If you know Skellington, you’ll know Skellington 3. Stripped down, often acoustic, sometimes off-key yet oft-times Cope-classic melodic (Parallel University, Very Krishna, Catch Your Dreams Before They Slip Away), it’s a ramshackle shot of a fast-moving Cope in songwriter mode. As ever, head to Head Heritage.
Hardcore bass loss
If you’re on the Hydra Head email list, you’ll have seen the subject line that came through around a month ago: The Caleb Scofield Memorial Fundraising Preorder. Then you’ll have done a double take. Memorial? Sadly, yes. The bass player for Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Zozobra passed away on March 28th after a car accident a road toll. He was 39. There goes the blood of some core Hydra Head noisery, all vital to the world of heavy. White Silence: crank it up to deafening.
’til next time.