Midday Veil – Integratron (Translinguistic Other)
Most interesting concept album of 2012 goes somewhat unsurprisingly to Seattle’s most consistently interesting band, Midday Veil. The premise is simple: rent out the Integratron in the Mojave desert and record an improv album therein. What’s the Integratron you ask? Well, a geodesic dome structure designed for sound amplification created by former Lockheed Martin aeronautical engineer George Van Tassel, of course (pictured). If you’re to believe the late Mr. Van T, calculated meditation sessions led to a summoning of beings from Venus, who took him aboard their ship and taught him about sacred techniques of sonic rejuvenation, which is where the idea for the building/device originated.
The Integratron is said to serve three major purposes: antigravity achievement, rejuvenation, and time travel, and so the album is thusly divided into three instrumental tracks with those titles. It’s some out there shit. Probably the least structural record on this list. It’s an album you’d want to listen to if you were, say, going to try and throw yourself into a mind state where feats of anti gravity, rejuvenation, and time travel were all possible. If you focused your will intently enough, I’m not saying that any of these things can’t happen with the aid of this album. Van Tassel got the idea by willfully summoning UFOs, after all. In a way, this is an appropriate final recording of MV with their now departed drummer Chris Pollina, as it’s more of a rhythmically-oriented type of mind expansion. His steady pummeling holds down the grounding framework for your thoughts to float on up into the outer reaches.
2012 also saw Midday Veil drop their video for the 23-minute epic “Moon Temple”, off their Subterranean Ritual II album. Definitely a high water mark for epic hallucinogenic mindfuckery. In early 2012, I performed a self designed auditory acid magick ritual to align myself with the coming aeon of telepathic unity. After all that strangeness, I threw on the video all enormo-projected on my wall. I couldn’t tell where my visions began and the video ended or vice versa. Genius level shit here. Externalized encapsulations of internal psionic mushroom dialogues from the astral master hive mind. Dig.
Baroness – Yellow & Green (Relapse Records)
What a balls out fucking record this is. It’s always hard to reinvent yourself completely as a somewhat established band, it’s even harder when you’re somewhat established in the world of metal. Metal fans just aren’t super forgiving, which is why so many bastions of loud basically find an agreeable formula and ride it out for the entirety of their careers. Baroness weren’t having any of that. This is pretty much a psychedelic prog epic with vague metal undertones. I imagine a lot of diehards were totally pissed, especially those of the more weed-shunning, Pabst-swilling variety.
All consciousness is part of a continuum, and it’s odd how the cycle of epic drug rock perpetuated itself through the noosphere in the ‘aughts. More than a decade ago, when I first moved out west, Tool, who had been growing increasingly noodly, toured with King Crimson. Then The Mars Volta came out — who as far as I could tell, were sort of trying to out King Crimson every band on earth while still holding together more of a pop framework and making things waaaaay art-trippier. Then genius level thrash stalwarts Mastodon started delving into increasing Mars Volta territory (they’re admittedly huge fans). Now Georgia’s second biggest metal monoliths Baroness follow suit, but put their own spin on it, dropping this mind frying slab of neo-Pink Floydian excess. Fantastic stuff, and just like with Mastodon on The Hunter, I had no idea these dudes could actually write songs to save their lives, but the vocal work and cohesion are rather impressive here. All these cuts are decidedly song-oriented at their very core. Of course, the album shines most on the moments when they kick into that southern fried radtastic dual guitar lead shredding thing they do. It’s their bread and butter, and they probably shouldn’t lose track of that.
And then there’s the eeriness. This is a sort of a mopey album at times, which at first didn’t jibe with me entirely. I got used to it after I remembered how bleak all those Pink Floyd discs I hold up on such a high pedestal are. Maybe it was the dark vibes, but 2012 also saw the dudes in Baroness almost die in a van wreck. How awful. Put out your best work as an artist only to probably have like half your fanbase turn their backs on you for not being “hard” enough because they’re drunken retards, then you almost die. You should really go buy this record because I doubt they have great health insurance. It’ll be interesting to see if they go back to even angrier territory as a way to deal with the shitstorm life just dumped on them. Maybe they’ll get hooked on pills. Will we ever see anything else like this from them again? Who knows. Either way, there will always be this massive testament to boldly pushing the envelope and watching it bend. Nice work with that fellas.
Editor’s Note: In our 2012 year-end Album Covers of the Year article, we have spoken with Baroness’ John Dyer Baizley about the intricate album cover for Yellow & Green. Stay tuned; the piece will be published on December 27th, 2012.
STREAM THE ENTIRE RECORD
Speaking of metal bands who just pick a formula and continually ride it to paydirt, 2012 also saw the cash in reunion of the legendary Bay Area stoner metal institution Sleep. As great as Sleep are, I’ve always maintained that the two bands formed in their wake, High on Fire and Om, are even more compelling. They also just happen to be two of the most monolithic bands imaginable. Everything each act does is amazing in its own way, but admittedly insanely repetitive. I have like five High on Fire albums and if you threw one on, there might be like a ten percent chance I’d be able to tell you which one it was.
Which is why this Om album is so great. Finally, they’re doing something different. Oky, let’s be honest. This band can truly only play one song but IT’S SUCH AN AWESOME SONG. Not awesome enough to eventually get sort of boring though, and I’ll admit that I was less than super stoked on their last two offerings. This one finally tweaks the formula just enough. In a nutshell, there is a lot more samples and layering stuff going on. But you take that preternaturally awesome song, add sort of a fresh spin on it and voila, greatness re-attained. The best part about Om are the astral vibrations. The album art always involves religious iconography, and that’s what Om’s music does: uplift the listener. This isn’t the hard stuff you put on to get black out drunk and rowdy to. You throw it on to get high as fuck and contemplate the meaning of existence. Maybe you talk to Jesus if that’s your sort of thing. Anything’s possible when your bands named after a timeless meditative mantra.
THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE (Sub Pop Records)
Ahhh, Seattle. Home of the two time world champion Seattle Storm and now the biggest openly lesbian trip-hop act ever. If you don’t see the connection between those two things, you’ve probably never been to a WNBA game. Let’s just say there’s an overflow of potent sacred feminine energy here and leave it at that. Sexual politics aside (we just legalized gay marriage as well, just sayin’), THEESatisfaction deserve mad 2012 psychoactive soundscape style props for dropping and incredibly challenging record that rewards repeated listens. That’s normally the best stuff. It’s so far removed from nearly anything you’ve ever heard that it takes a while to catch up with you — or probably more accurately, you take a while to catch up with it.
They’re just throwing together such a colorful pastiche of varied elements here and putting their own spin on all of it. I’m also a huge fan of how these admitted “queens of the stoned age” play the rarely treaded short attention span-style of calculated mindfuckery. Just when you’re getting used to one brilliant psychic sound tunnel, they bounce to the next, reminding the listener of the higher consciousness’s infinite and surprising shape shifting novelty. Sometimes this sort of tactic can work even better than protracted time-stretching riff or beat worship.
They also get extra love for raising the question: how catchy is too catchy? I swear the song “QueenS” is not only the single of the year (which should have been on crap like Target commercials if the suits had any sort of direct line to the underlying pulse of the multiverse) but also so catchy it weirds me out a bit. I literally had to take like a month off of listening to this disc because that track embedded itself so deep in my psyche that I couldn’t escape its hyper-infectious groove. I eventually got past it, but methinks there might be some witchery afoot with these two.
Editor’s Note: This record also made our Top Albums of 2012 Staff Picks list.
Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent (Drag City)
Oh hey and shit, wouldn’t it be awesome if Comets on Fire got back together and put out a new album in 2012? Well, that didn’t happen but you take what you can get. Like the best Six Organs of Admittance album to date made with a bunch of now Seattleite Ben Chasny’s Comets peeps. Truth be told, I’ve liked everything that SSOA have dropped thusfar, but it doesn’t even come close to shining as bright as the disorienting sonic maelstrom COF conjured forth in their prime. I mean, the Organs were basically acoustic… until now.
Yep, I suppose inspired by his old mates, Mr. Chasny decided to totally let loose here. “Oh yeah, remember how I can totally slay?” Well, now we all do. Thanks for plugging back in, sir. Actually it’s kind of funny; after the first few cuts, this album starts to make you think it’s going to get lost in excessive-blues-wank-territory, but it then wisely pulls back and goes all mellow-acoustic-weed-drone for just long enough to break up the shredding. Certainly not a new Comets disc as it definitely retains the Six Organs songwriting style, just with a new ramped up ethos. Will we see a new Comets on Fire album some day soon? I’ll take the fact that the space bros have been cavorting together again as a good sign. What the fuck is Howlin’ Rain anyway? Comets on Fire minus everything that’s interesting about Comets on Fire. I’ve literally described them that way to other people when asked. Pull it back together kids, for the heads. The planet needs you.