PALMS – Palms

Released on Ipecac, 2013

If you’ve missed the post-metallic majesty of Isis since they called it quits three years ago, get your hands on Palms – and prepare to fly.

Palms is what happens when Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris and Bryant Clifford Meyer finally emerge from their post-Isis existential fug to decide that yes, they WILL make a record and it will be with each other

but it won’t be instrumental. They want a singer. Question is, after thirteen years with Aaron Turner on vocal command in the old band, who’s gonna fit their bill?

Step forward Deftones frontman Chino Moreno. After striking up a hiking friendship (yes, really) with drummer Aaron Harris, it’s clear he’s keen and wants in on this new post-Isis project.

ISIS + DEFTONES: big-name rock merger or what?

Sure is. But whereas some all-star join-ups sound assembled and bolted together instead of organically grown – Audioslave’s debut being a case in point – this one is seamless and effortless and fully formed from the off. A strong Isis current flows throughout but it’s not the raw, guttural Isis of Celestial, nor does it dominate. No, this record takes the clean vocals and spacious musicality of Wavering Radiant (Ghost Key, Hand of the Host) as a starting point and then bursts skyward. This is a record that takes you places.

Musically that’s no surprise, given the pedigree of the players and the nature of their previous band(s), but in the same way that Om took their own legacy – Dopesmoker’s dense mantra – into more airy terrain, Palms do a similar evolution job with the layers, surges and flows that defined their Ipecac forefathers. Future Warrior’s hypnotic intensity and Mission Sunset’s slow build to bruising/beautiful low-end payoff – one of THE peaks of this expansive set – are most Isis-like, but there’s other stuff going on too. Electronic hues usher in a cool, hushed ambience, none more so than on the gently euphoric dream-state closer Antarctic Handshake. You get a sense of elevation, movement and open spaces, if that means anything. Twilights and sunsets and pre-storm stillness. That’s Palms.

Crucial to this new ID for the ex-Isis three is, surely, Chino Moreno. Deftones revel in both sensitivity and rage, and Moreno’s vocals here traverse that same spectrum. Sometimes hushed, sometimes screamed but never hostile, his soulful yearn sounds caught in the throes of ascension – just not departed yet.

And somehow, that’s exactly where the album belongs. Music to be swept with, and lifted by.

‘Ascending into heaven

while staring into hell.

We’re staring into heaven

descending into hell.’

Lyrics from Shortwave Radio. Says it all.

Honkeyfinger – Beasts E.P.

If cassettes are making a comeback then this Beasts EP from industrial slide-blues manglers Honkeyfinger is the future. Lurid cheapo yellow, double wrapped in CARDBOARD – a rustic corrugated self-folding box – and stamped with only the most essential text, it’s a low-tech high-value pack that wholly befits the primal fuzz furled around the spools.

And primal is the word. Deranged might be another. Channelling a Blues-Explosion howl and laying it with max distortion over a moto kraut rhythm that POUNDS, opening track 21st Century Man is this year’s best tribute to the Heads but without any of the Bristolians’ stretch, speed and infinite wah. No, Honkeyfinger packs it way tight.

Honkeyfinger packs the blues.

Not downbeat back porch unplugged blues but hotwired-into-the-mains blues. Fried blues, deviant slide guitar kill blues, screaming from a low-watt yellow-bulb basement-squat blues: THAT’S what we’re hearing here, for this track at least – Jesus Built My Hotrod blues, compressed by a shallow production that flattens all the air and space out of it.

Wiseblood slows the pace, lurching and heaving like a pissed cyborg, before Fever Rising wheels in the creeped-out carousel madness of Silver Apples. You know those rhapsodic gospel blues jams that go on and on and ON at a pace that fetches up your agitation, makes you feel twitchy with its hypermania? That’s what this points at. Which is probably why it’s got the name it’s got. Harmonica rips and clarinet strips, the latter peeled off by Duke Garwood who, if memory serves at all, did some time with the Archie Bronson Outfit a few years back. He also put a record out with Mark Lanegan this year … same Duke Garwood? Must be. I’d like to hear that. Bet it sounds nothing like this though.

Closing it all off is the sludge comedown: In the Realms of the Noble Savage, a gasping crawl through sewer stink while roadwork pneumatics hammer above on the topside outside, oblivious. Seedy slow underground … blues. Never forget the blues.

And there we have Beasts. Machine beats, no-depth underproduction, slide ‘n harmonica, distorto vox, lo-fi all the way. How Honkeyfinger fare over a full-length album is anyone’s guess and it might just be that an EP, short and sharp, is the ultimate shock dosage. Bring out the next one quick.

Honkeyfinger: Beasts (Greasy Noise Records, 2013)

Limited edition (100) cassette

Tracks:

  1. 21st Century Man
  2. Wise Blood
  3. Fever Rising
  4. Noble Savagery

Arbouretum: live@Port Mahon, Oxford, August 2013

Baltimore rockers Arbouretum follow their Green Man Festival date with a mini tour that takes in a mini venue: Oxford’s Port Mahon. Standing room only, surely.

 

Please, no encore. Don’t make this go on any longer. Make it stop.

And stop, they do. No encore. Arbouretum get it, and we can get out. RELIEF.

Which is not quite what we were expecting ahead of a gig that, let’s be honest, is a bloody exciting prospect. Listed on the posters as ‘the smallest gig of Arbouretum’s UK tour’, this has to be the rock event of the month bar none. Not even Eels and Nick Oliveri, who are both playing Oxford tonight (sadly not together), can top this one. My mate Si drove all the way over from Cardiff having seen Arbouretum 24 hours earlier in Bristol, declaring it one of the best gigs he’d ever been to. Cardiff-Bristol-Cardiff-Oxford-Cardiff in a day and a half is a pretty conclusive testimonial.

But back to tonight: history is written. Why?

HOTTEST GIG EVER.

Stupid-hot, it is. Pouring sweat and light-headed flakiness all round. The bassist does well to keep his eyes open and stay upright, and the only way to get through this high humidity hell-hole is not to move. At all.

More of this later though ‘coz before Arbouretum take the tiny stage, we have two local bands on the bill – Coma Wall and Listing Ships.

Coma Wall are the unplugged alter ego of the doom-laden Undersmile. They lay funereal Alice in Chains-esque harmonies (Sap/Jar of Flies) over sparse, almost-rustic acoustics and drag it all out at an Earth-paced crawl. A melancholic start for sure.

Listing Ships, by contrast, are all over the place. I mean that in a very precise, right-side-of-muso way – their instrumental math/post rock fusion is krautrock propulsive, bringing to mind Explosions in the Sky jamming on Battles or early-Foals. Or summat. Exhilarating stuff.

We wait for Arbouretum and feel the Ships-generated exhilaration slowly turn to perspiration. Equipment problems delay the headliner’s start and there’s a hint of agitation in the thickening air. Arbouretum look distracted, a bit tense. It’s getting hotter. Finally they start. They get it wrong, it’s a balls-up. They stop.

‘Well, we’ve never done that before,’ says frontman Dave Heumann. ‘You are witnessing a first.’

This error and frank admission somehow breaks the onstage tension and frees them, finally, to do what they came here to do – mesmerise us with their amplified Americana, fluid heaviness and out-there escapism. Arbouretum’s music belongs somewhere earthy and mystical, somewhere without boundaries. It rolls and surges. It’s unhurried but it still rocks. For some reason I start to imagine them playing in a bedouin tent.

But they’re not in a tent. They’re in an airless sweatbox which, by the time the set nears its end, is slowly forcing people out the door before the band call time on their set

Arbouretum still win though. They’re a class act, no doubt about it. We saw that, even if we were too beaten to fully reward it. Bristol next time?

Naam: live@the Wheatsheaf, Oxford, June 2013

Rock action beckons when Naam take the Wheatsheaf. Beards optional.

 

 

 

 

You check the gig listings.

You see the phrases HEAVY PSYCHEDELIA and DRONE CORE BEHEMOTHS next to a band’s name in a preview.

You don’t know the band.

But this sounds promising.

No, this sounds unmissable – colossal drone AND transcendence? In the same night? At the Wheatsheaf?

No-brainer. Naam are a band I’d never heard of but there’s no way I was missing that.

Didn’t manage to see the first support band but the second support, Oxfordshire three-piece Caravan of Whores, made an immediate impact. Again, not a band I knew. The singer looked familiar. But that’s because I’d seen him unloading a van of gear (musical) on the High Street a few hours earlier.

Onstage, it’s muscular mid-tempo riffs they unload, riffs that reference 90s stoner yet are anchored by downer roots – less blues, more blackened. A few escapist psyche-jam flourishes and tasty time changes show that the Whores have the chops to shift their doom-riff devotion into something more textured.

And so to Naam, four unassuming fellas from Brooklyn signed to Tee Pee Records, the label that put out Sleep’s restored Dopesmoker record a decade ago.

Not for them the monolithic bludgeon of Matt Pike’s crew, though. No, these guys are a less singular musical proposition than that, preferring instead to embark on lengthy light-dark excursions that embrace Pink Floyd’s expansive moods but add a little heft.

With the odd nod towards post-Sleep mantra gods Om, as on Skyscraper, and an ever-present keyboard swirl, Naam craft some seriously free-flowing currents to carry you off and away. Tracks like Vow and Beyond bring the band’s tougher edge and Hawkwind pulse to the fore, while elsewhere they flit with ease between tempos, moods, density and space. Ebbing heavy prog with a psychedelic wash: that’s what fills the Wheatsheaf tonight.

Which makes the pre-gig drone core tag a bit …  off. SunnO))) and Ufomammut they ain’t.

But classic spacerock trippers they definitely are. If Black Mountain at their Bright Lights heaviest or Crippled Black Phoenix at their most Floydian make it onto your playlist, Naam are well worth checking. Keep your eye on ‘em.