Grave Flowers Bongo Band: Strength of Spring (2021)

At some point Castle Face Records stopped being the home of Osees (or Oh Sees, or Thee Oh Sees, or OCS, etc.) and became one of the most dependable labels for delivering rock and roll aimed squarely at my brain. Few labels are consistently knocking out great rock that slides effortlessly into psych and prog but somehow John Dwyer keeps finding them and signing them. Case in point: Grave Flowers Bongo Band, who not only embody everything I love about the label on their sophomore record Strength of Spring, but have the added bonus of being produced by another of my favorite artists, Ty Segall. For some that’s a recipe for garage rock disaster; for me it’s buzzed out sonic bliss.

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uncle acid and the deadbeats - blood lust

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats: Blood Lust (2011)

When you’re recording guitars you’re taught to keep things “out of the red” – even with the heaviest distortion, you want to keep the sound from clipping and sounding like there’s something wrong with your speakers. Another term for it is “bricking” – when you see the wav form for something recorded too hot it looks like a solid brick of sound with no dynamics. It’s a good thing no one told Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats about that, because their second album Blood Lust wouldn’t have nearly the impact it does if the guitars (and everything else) didn’t sound like all the levels were maxed out. Far from being unlistenable, it creates a lo-fi psych/stoner doom rock gem that gets better with each listen.

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Consuming in 2021: New Music

Sorry I’ve been away for a while. Due to holidays and some burnout I’ve been helping to hold down the fort at my other job over at Nine Circles, where I took over our weekly playlist and started my annual series of posts wrapping up my favorite metal albums of the year. And while my primary focus for 2021 has been digging deeper into the nooks and crannies of the music that made me a rock and roll addict for over 40 years, I still managed to find my way to a number of new releases that fired the synapses and gave way to the euphoric bliss of being able to turn away the ever-growing anxiety and depression. So before we jump back into the waters of yesteryear (Christmas yielded a bevy of vinyl treasures I can’t wait to talk about) let’s spend a little bit of time talking about some new music that kept my head, heart, and soul afloat this year.

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finch - beyond expression

Finch: Beyond Expression (1976)

Are you supposed to grow out of your prog phase? I’m not sure, and I’m sorry to say that my need for keyboard wankery and ever-shifting tempos, time signatures, and 20-minute long songs continues unabated. Finch was another band I discovered listening to episodes of Sea of Tranquility, but resorted to YouTubes clips to hear then since they’re not available on streaming platforms. A Dutch instrumental prog band that briefly existed from about 1974-1978, their second album Beyond Expression cater to everything that was popular in prog at the time: long, symphonic structured songs, a heavy emphasis on keyboards and changing tonal shifts within the songs. Your mileage may vary, there’s a lot here I found that really works, both as great background music and when you dig in deeper for that classic prog headphone experience.

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uriah heep - look at yourself

Uriah Heep: Look at Yourself (1971)

It’s another late night. We’ve switched from scotch to red wine, but we’re ready to continue down the track by track path of the monster that is 70s hard rock. Uriah Heep may have solidified their classic lineup and earned their biggest hit to date with “Easy Living'” on 1972’s Demons and Wizards, but the real hard rock punch came a year earlier with the mesmerizing Look at Yourself. The progressive side hasn’t yet fully come into its own; instead we get pounding guitars and organs and an overall more metal release. I was thrilled to find a great copy – a first US pressing at my local shop Needle + Groove for a song. A few listens convinced me of its merit, and for a while I was happy to say it was my favorite of their releases I had heard to date. Now that I had a serious dive into the followup, let tear this sucker up track by track and still if my assessment still holds true.

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uriah heep - demons and wizards

Uriah Heep: Demons and Wizards (1972)

Okay ladies and gentlemen…I have had more than a few drinks, the stereo is turned up loud, and I’m ready to continue down the path of classic 1970s hard rock, as initiated all the way back in July of this year when I waxed poetic about the Sea of Tranquility YouTube channel. Let’s keep the train rolling with some of the vinyl I picked up over the last few months, starting with a band I knew by name but was woefully ignorant of musically…the mighty Uriah Heep and their dynamic fourth album Demons and Wizards. I think at this points I’m enough sheets into the wind to do more of a reaction review, even though I’ve heard the record a number of times already. Flare your pant bottoms and grab your wicker basket of wine…it’s time to do this.

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