FROM THE DESERT TO THE STARS: THE BEST PSYCHEDELIC STONER ROCK OF THE YEAR

There are genres of music that seem to be born for being mixed together. Stoner rock and Psychedelic rock are two of these and it is no coincidence that there is now a specific and well populated current of artists that are specialized on this style of music.

Psychedelic stoner rock merges the warm and slightly abrasive sounds of classic stoner with the hypnotic and progressive approach to music of psychedelic rock. And the marriage is so perfect that the union between these two styles of music manages to keep all the specific characteristics of the two starting genres but, at the same time, generates something unique and new. Call it alchemy, or musical magic, this is what the psychedelic stoner artists have learned to do.

I’m presenting in this article the best psychedelic stoner albums we heard so far in 2018. Five bands, five different approaches to music, but the same impressive level of quality. Enjoy the reading and don’t forget to listen to this spectacular music.

 


 

#1) All Them Witches, “ATW”

 

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All Them Witches are an American rock band from Nashville, Tennessee. After the recent quit of keyboardist Jonathan Draper, the band today consists of drummer Robby Staebler, vocalist, bassist, guitarist Charles Michael Parks Jr. and guitarist Ben McLeod.

Less than two years after their beautiful album Sleeping Through the War, we’re gifted with new LP from All Them Witches, and it was for me one of the most beautiful surprises I had in the recent months. It’s always good when a rock band is experiencing a phase of creative inspiration, but this time I was particularly impressed because in the short lapse of a year and half these rockers from Nashville have made a gigantic step forward in their musical evolution and ATW, their new record, has the full potential to project the band into the exclusive club of the most important bands of contemporary stoner rock.

The stylistic growth experienced by All Them Witches took place through the development of an absolutely unique and personal musical language, an evident evolution of the style that they had already presented in their previous works but that only today, arrived at the fifth studio LP of their discography, seems to have found its final maturity. What happened to the band and what’s the cause of such an improvement? I don’t have many elements to make my hypotheses, but I think it’s a matter of increased confidence in their capabilities. Listening to the songs of the new record we realize in fact that All Them Witches have understood the reach of their talent, and they eventually decided to abandon the usual routes and venture into darker and unexplored meanders, which proved to be closer to their musical sensibility.

From a musical point of view, the songs in ATW seem to belong to two main categories. The first one is the group of what I like to the “apparently conventional” songs, i.e. pieces that seem to reproduce initially a very precise stylistical model but then develop into something different, and extremely intriguing. An example is given by the energetic song 1st vs 2nd that starts as a standard stoner rock tune but then, through a crescendo that you would expect to fade but which always increases in intensity, evolves into an obsessive mid-tempo thrash metal riff that would not disfigure in a song by Metallica. The second category of songs collects a series of beautifully dark, slow, hypnotic and slimy bluesy ballads. These are the songs of the album where the music really seems to came directly from the soul of the artists. The architecture of these pieces is minimal, essential and usually based on the repetition of a note, a chord, or a simple riff, with elements that are then incrementally added one on top of the others and which, one by one, increase the overall tension of the piece. In this category of songs the psychedelic element is still present but always dosed with great wisdom. The fantastic and majestic Diamond is perhaps the most representative song of this second group of tracks.

Beyond the value of individual songs, however, it’s the album in its entirety that deserves the most sincere compliments. This was really a surprise from a band that has definitely entered a new phase of its career, signed by an improved stylistic maturity and also by the full awareness of the expressive capabilities that their music have gained in the last few years.


 

#2) Weedpecker, “III”

 

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Weedpecker, from Poland, are a psycho-stoner band consisting of Wyro at guitar and vocals, Bartek at guitar and vocals, Karol on bass and Kuks on drums.

Weedpecker are a relatively new psychedelic stoner band from Poland. In the relatively short timespan of six years since their formation the band has already released three full-lenght LPs, all of them of absolute value. The last one, named III as the position that the album has in the discography of the band, is a joyful ride through desert soundscapes burned by the sun.

It’s possible to recognize many different influences in their sound, but these rockers from Warsav managed however to consolidate a unique style and direction for their music, which may be summarized as a dirty and fuzzed version of stoner rock. As correctly reported in the album release notes, III sees Weedpecker experimenting with light and colorful jams that remind the listener of bands like Tame Impala or Morgan Delt. Moving seamlessly between styles and moods organically, it’s easy to get lost, only to find yourself emerged in a different world entirely.

A couple of songs of the album (Embrace and Liquid Sky) may be considered real masterpieces of this particular style of music.


 

#3) ASG, “Survive Sunrise”

 

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ASG is an American four-piece stoner metal band originating from Wilmington, North Carolina. It consists of Jason Shi on vocals and guitar, Andy Ellis on bass, Scott Key on drums and Jonah Citty on guitar.

ASG is one of those bands that didn’t achieve the success they deserved. Active since 2001, this quartet of veteran stoner rockers have gained the status of cult band in the underground movement, but they remain fairly little known to the international audiences. Probably this is because their studio albums can’t match the reputation which they gained for their wildly energetic live shows. Anyway, for everyon who’s been lucky enough to appreciate the works of this band from North Carolina, the news of the release of a new album is always welcomed with great enthusiasm.

Survive Sunrise, their sixth full length album, is also the first in five years since their previous LP. Their newest record provides the listener with another fine selection of psychedelic stoner rock. Most of the songs have mid paced rhythms and the music conveys in general the feeling of a hot and sweaty evening, when the sun slowly gives way to the blue of the night and your face, burned by the sun rays and made harsh from the dust, can finally enjoy a breath of fresh air. Singable and delicate melodies develop over the psychedelic and southern atmospheres that are drawn by the guitars, and the scene is then completed by the incredible voice of Jason Shi.

Survive Sunrise is a really solid and valid album from a band that, despite not being very prolific, has always managed to leave its mark in the stoner world with every new work. Perhaps the stylistic choice to attenuate the most energeting aspects of stoner rock in favor of a more introspective and visionary approach to music won’t allow them to achieve heavy rotations and mainstream success. Their road, however, is signed and these guys don’t seem interested to negotiate popularity with their unique and special vision of rock music.


 

#4) Graveyard, “Peace”

 

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Graveyard is a Swedish hard rock band from Gothenburg, formed in 2006. After their reunion in 2017, the line-up today consists of Joakim Nilsson (guitar, vocals), Jonatan Larocca-Ramm (guitar, vocals), Truls Mörck (bass, vocals) and the new drummer Oskar Bergenheim, who has replaced Axel Sjöberg.

Graveyard, from Sweden, belong to the large family of contemporary revivalist formations that repropose in a modern key a style of hard rock and blues that’s deeply inspired by the music of the 70’s. Although I’ve never been one of the greatest fans of the band, I was among those who remained impressed by the fantastic album that Graveyard released in 2011, Healingen Blues, which is the LP that basically launched them in the Olympus of modern rock. Since then I’ve always followed with great interest the activity of this group, which moved somewhat erratically between publications of great value and some missteps.

This year Graveyards have released a new album, Peace, which is the fifth studio record of their discography. The genesis of this work has been somewhat troubled. The band has just come out of a tormented period in which first they suddenly broken up and then, after a streak of cancelled gigs and also a few months of inactivity, they reunited and eventually came back into the studio with a slightly varied formation. For what is my experience these are the cases in which a group typically produces the most extreme works: musical masterpieces that testify to the indomitable spirit of a band that has managed to overcome the difficulties due to the urgency of communicating the music that they had inside, or weak and inhomogeneous albums that may represent, at best, a new beginning. Peace, unfortunately, does not belong to the first category and in fact we are far from the class and the passion that emerged from their flagship record. Fortunately, however, there are many good moments and flashes of light in their new work that we can’t really say that the band is starting again from the scratch.

The good news is that the signature components of Graveyard’s music are still here: liquid guitars, exciting psychedelic sections, bluesy vocals and berautiful stoner atmospheres. We can even highlight a certain evolution of their sound towards somewhat more “metallic” regions. Among the aspects that don’t convince me completely, however, there is the fact that the riffs in Peace, in general, are not engaging and catchy as in the past, and this makes me think that the composition process wasn’t exactly spontaneous (and that’s sincerely the least we could expect given the premises). During the 42 minutes of Peace, however, there are moments of absolute beauty like the conluding song Low, the openin track It Ain’t Over Yet and the brilliant Walk On. These make us forget about everything else and which, in the end, make us grateful to the Muse of music that this exceptional band is back on the scene.


 

#5) King Buffalo, “Repeater” + “Longing to Be The Mountain”

 

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King Buffalo is a psychedelic trio in the classic format, whose music is a powerful concoction of heavy psych, blues, and stoner rock. The band consists of Sean McVay (guitar & lead vocals), Dan Reynolds (bass) and Scott Donaldson (drums & vocals)

Generally I’m not for including EPs in this kind of charts, but sometimes it’s necessary to make some exceptions and Repeater, from King Buffalo, is a work of such quality that it couldn’t be excluded from this article.

King Buffalo is a trio of extremely talended psychedelic rockers from New York. In 2013, three years after their formation, the band released their first full-lenght work, Orion, which gained in short time a relevant consideration, initially limited to the underground scene but which rapidly expanded to an international audience. These guys play in fact a beautiful kind of psychedelic rock with many elements from blues, stoner and sludge. Early in 2018 the band published a short EP with three tracks, named Repeater, that was later followed by a proper full-lenght LP, named Longing to Be the Mountain.

Both the two releases show the impressive capabilitiy of the trio to create poetical, psychedelic and dreamy atmospheres. Their songs are hypnotic and psychic anthems or epic stoner ballads which grow slowly, with no rush, reaching moments of pure beauty.


 

If you enjoyed these bands, you will appreciate the two playlists that I’m curating on Spotify for stoner. The first, DUST AND SAND, is dedicated to the more energic side of this genre of music while the second one, THE DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER, is more focused on the intimate and psychedelic aspects of stoner. Listen, follow and spread the word!

 


 

 

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