Best Albums: Doomriders, Cults, Red Fang, Pelican, Marijuana Deathsquads

This week’s best albums

– On its latest, hardcore outfit Doomriders keeps things short but powerful, giving the album a more straightforward punk feel.

– With its anticipated second LP, Cults showcases a remarkable skill set for crafting dark and demented pop gems.

Red Fang returns to blast listeners in the face with 11 feel-good stoner-metal stompers.

Pelican takes a heavier, more aggressive direction on Forever Becoming, taking a bit of the “post” out of the band’s “post-metal.”

Marijuana Deathsquads presents a more refined direction on a new batch of boundary-blurring, heavily collaborative experimental rock-tronica.

– On his third collaborative album with Greg O’Keeffe, Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jørgensen has his songwriting chops shine through with clarity and power.

Honorable mentions

Anacondas: Sub Contra Blues (Prosthetic)

Black Milk: No Poison, No Paradise (Fat Beats)

The Books: Music for a French Elevator and Other Oddities (Temporary Residence)

Brian Haas & Matt Chamberlain: Frames (The Royal Potato Family)

Cave: Threace (Drag City)

The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley (Partisan)

Four Tet: Beautiful Rewind (Temporary Residence)

Tim Hecker: Virgins (Kranky)

Kwes: Ilp (Warp)

Dana Lyn: Aqualude (Ropeadope)

Mamiffer & Circle: Enharmonic Intervals (for Paschen Organ) (Ektro / SIGE)

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Listen: Pelican “Deny the Absolute”

PelicanSweet new riffage from  Chicago’s metallic post-rockers Pelican. Their new album Forever Becoming will be released October 15th.

Forever Becoming:

1. Terminal
2. Deny the Absolute
3. The Tundra
4. Immutable Dusk
5. Threnody
6. The Cliff
7. Vestiges
8. Perpetual Dawn

Tour dates:

10/17 Brooklyn, NY – Invisible Oranges CMJ Showcase*
10/18 Brooklyn, NY – Invisible Oranges CMJ Showcase*
10/19 Allston, MA – Great Scott *
11/1 Cleveland, OH – Peabody’s ^
11/2 Washington, DC – DC9 ^
11/3 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church ^
11/4 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506 ^
11/5 Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade ^
11/6 Birmingham, AL – Zydeco ^
11/7 Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon ^
11/8-10 Austin TX – Fun Fun Fun Fest
11/13 Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge

* with King’s Destroy
^ with Coliseum

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Interview: Pelican stretches far, geographically and acoustically, on Ataraxia / Taraxis

This content appears in the iPad-exclusive ALARM 39. Download it for free and subscribe to our new print edition.

PelicanAtaraxia-TaraxisEPcoverartworkpackshot400pxThrashHits-47074_200x200Pelican: Ataraxia / Taraxis (Southern Lord, 4/10/12)

“Lathe Biosas”


Ten years is a time frame in which anything can happen, especially in the music industry. Relationships begin and end, bands come and go, and trends begin and overturn, causing new heroes to rise and the kings of yesterday to be left in the shadows. But sometimes bands remain on top of their territory past this milestone and beyond.

Enter Chicago’s Pelican, whose ten-plus years on the circuit have taken it around the globe and left it in the higher ranks of post-metal acts. Though 2010 marked the band’s tin anniversary, 2012 is a year of progress, reflected in its new EP, Ataraxia / Taraxis.

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Roadburn Festival 2012

Holland’s annual Roadburn Festival begins today, featuring some of the most adventurous names in metal (and beyond) from across the globe over four days of festivities. This year’s ALARM favorites include: Ancestors, Michael Gira (of Swans), Killing Joke, OmSleep, Pelican, Manorexia (JG Thirlwell), Nachtmystium, Barn Owl, Jucifer, La Otracina, Justin K. Broadrick SavioursTombs, and The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation.

See the complete schedule here. Though the festival is sold out, it’s never too early to plan for 2013!
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The Metal Examiner: Intronaut’s Valley Of Smoke

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Intronaut: Valley of Smoke

IntronautValley of Smoke (Century Media, 10/12/10)

Intronaut: “Elegy”
[audio:|titles=Intronaut: “Elegy”]

Intronaut made its name in forward-thinking metal circles by understanding that pure metal moments hit harder by sandwiching them between other styles — in this case, passages that are closer to fusion or jazz. Rather than a guitar spotlight, the group reaches for a fretless bass solo; in lieu of a unison run, Intronaut deploys a spacey, percussive breakdown.

But whereas the group’s previous releases (especially Prehistoricisms in 2008) suggested a band poised squarely in art-metal territory, Valley Of Smoke shows the band moving simultaneously toward and away from modern metal. It’s moving toward in its increasingly overt nods to the group’s sonic peers (Neurosis, Isis, and, at times, Pelican), but away in its refusal to ever really stick to one thing at a time, resulting in a disc that’s not easily classifiable as metal, but not easily classifiable as anything else either.

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The Metal Examiner: Circle of Animals’ Destroy the Light

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Circle of Animals: Destroy the LightCircle of Animals: Destroy the Light (Relapse, 10/12/2010)

Click here to download Circle of Animals’ “Poison the Lamb”
[audio:|titles=Circle of Animals: “Poison the Lamb”]

Producer/multi-instrumentalist Sanford Parker (Minsk, Buried at Sea) and saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) have long and assorted ties in and around Chicago, where the two reside and contribute to the city’s vibrant underground.

Parker, in addition to his main gig in Minsk, has produced the likes of Pelican, Rwake, Unearthly Trance, Jai Alai Savant, Lair of the Minotaur, and Nachtmystium, and Lamont, outside of Yakuza, recently finished recording a solo album and regularly plays with other experimental metal and noise outfits (Decayist, Sick Gazelle) as well as improvised-jazz players (Jeff Parker, Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis).

Each man’s résumé is a mile long, and now the two have come together to pay tribute to Chicago’s late-’80s and early-’90s Wax Trax! industrial scene with their new project, Circle of Animals. A diverse and widely recognizable cast of drummers rounds out the lineup on this release, with names like Dave Witte (Discordance Axis, Municipal Waste), John Herndon (Tortoise), John Merryman (Cephalic Carnage), and Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) lending their talents.
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Morrow vs. Hajduch: Bongripper’s Satan Worshipping Doom

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Bongripper: Satan Worshipping DoomBongripper: Satan Worshipping Doom 2xLP (August 13, 2010)

Bongripper: “Hail”
[audio:|titles=Bongripper: “Satan Worshipping Doom”]

Morrow: Chicago’s Bongripper makes the type of music that you might glean from its name — bleak, crushing doom metal that’s built on stoner riffs and down-tuned guitars.  I will preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but the band already has two strikes in my book for the lame pot-related name and the (presumably tongue-in-cheek) Satanism.

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Helen Money: One-Woman Cello Fury

Helen Money: “In Tune”
[audio:|titles=Helen Money: “In Tune”]

As Helen Money, Chicago-based cellist Alison Chesley transforms a commonly known classical instrument into a mighty weapon for composing and arranging furious one-woman rock concertos. But unlike the explosive and menacing songs on her second album, In Tune, Chesley is unassuming in person, speaking softly in the basement chill-out room at the Empty Bottle in Chicago before performing later that evening.

The subterranean location seems fitting, considering Chesley’s ability to push the sonic boundaries of the cello and journey to the depths of the heart and mind. “I want to make the cello sound like anything but a cello,” she says. “I’m looking for that one feeling, and then I dig in and see what I can discover. I love that dark sound and going to a serious place where I can work with darker emotions. I have to feel what I’m playing.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chesley became a cellist serendipitously. “In grade school, I had to pick an instrument for a part of a public-school music program,” she says. “I can’t remember exactly why, but I ended up picking the cello.

“Then I remember my dad buying me Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor. That’s probably one of the best cello pieces ever written, and I still don’t know how he knew to pick that out. I listened to that Dvorak recording over and over. Eventually, I came to love the midrange sound of the cello, and it’s unique from all instruments because it’s most similar to human voice. It hits you right in the chest.”

As she grew up, Chesley continued to mix in varied musical influences like the music of pop star Shaun Cassidy. But it was the epic rock of The Who and SST punk bands such as The Minutemen (which she covers on In Tune with “A Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing”) that formed the nucleus for the style of aggressive rock-based and minimalist cello that she wanted to play.

In 1994, Chesley came to Chicago to study for her master’s in cello performance at Northwestern University. She met fellow musician Jason Narducy, with whom she eventually formed alternative-rock band Verbow. After recording two albums with Verbow, Chesley left the band in 2001 to embark on a solo career.

In addition to Helen Money, Chesley works as a composer, arranger, and instructor for Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. “I love teaching at the Old Town School of Folk Music,” she says. “I had a student with multiple sclerosis who wanted to learn to play cello, and it was inspiring to see that type of determination from a student, because it makes me appreciate my gift and think back to when I was a kid and I used to hide in the backyard when I didn’t want to practice my cello.”

Chesley also composes for theater and film productions and has leant her talents to bands including Disturbed, Anthrax, Mono, and Russian Circles. Chesley says that creating music for other projects is “more about the dance,” where she focuses on complementing, enhancing, or responding to visual elements like actors or sets in theater or film.

The challenges change when it comes to her own music, where it’s up to her to decide where she takes the mood of a piece. “As Helen Money, I try to present an idea, tell a complete story, and have structure,” she says. “When I left Verbow, I wasn’t really interested in playing pretty cello. I didn’t want to be just a string player in a band. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to play with anyone because I was really curious to see if I could write and perform on my own. I also wanted to challenge myself to see if I could create a whole cohesive piece.”

The first Helen Money record, a self-titled album that she released in 2007, was about discovery. “I was thinking more along the lines of Bob Mould’s Workbook,” Chesley says. “So over time I added effects pedals and took the aggressive cello I was playing with Verbow to a different level.”

As for her sophomore album, Chesley says that she pushed herself to develop an idea. “I recorded my first album live, but when I started recording In Tune,I had just started working with Pro Tools,” she says. “I wanted to see if I could get away from relying on my loop stations’ pedals and worry about how to pull it off live later.”

For In Tune, Chesley took a different approach to recording. Working with engineer Greg Norman (Pelican, Russian Circles, Neurosis), she was presented with new challenges in the studio. “Once of the things I was cautious of when recording on tape was to figure out how to play things from beginning to end,” she says.

“Learning that was difficult. When I screwed something up, I wasn’t sure if I could do that again. But Greg helped by telling me to just get one good take, not four or five. Working like that in the studio was hard, but it allowed me to learn to be okay with mistakes, and I’m glad I did it that way.”

That edge and struggle can be felt on the album. Her placements of percussive plucks and violent pushes and pulls of the bow back and forth across the strings immerse the listener in songs that are rigid and gritty, sleek and graceful. It’s a jagged juxtaposition of metal textures and rock rhythms that’s terrifying as much as it is tender and vulnerable.

For example, as inspiration for her song “Untilted,” Chesley explains, “I was listening to John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama.’ I knew that song was about the girls who died in a bombing during the civil-rights struggle in the ’60s. I love that song because it’s so naked. Coltrane evoked a strong feeling. I wanted to do the same thing in the middle section of ‘Untitled.’ On all my songs, I’m searching for a feeling or a sound more than melody because I’m not very good at writing melody.”

“And that feeling is usually dark,” Chesley adds, “because I’m not scared to explore the darker emotions. I don’t mind being in a dark places. I don’t know why that is. For some reason, I don’t like music that you have to think about to appreciate. I’m hesitant to listen to albums like that. I like the rawness and immediacy of music that hits you quickly.”

Chesley wrestled with artistic uncertainty during the recording of In Tune and as she prepared to tour. “There’s so much music out there now that it’s easy to ask yourself ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? Why would anyone listen to my music?’” she says. “There are so many good musicians today that you really have to believe in yourself and be confident even when you have doubt.

“For me, I realized that if I’m not playing my cello or writing, then I’m not really happy and I get depressed. Being aware of this makes me realize that I should be making music even when I’m struggling with the fear that nobody will want to hear my music. Sometimes I play cello just for my own emotional health or to sort things out.”

Listening to Chesley work out her struggles and express herself on record is only part of the equation. Experiencing Helen Money live adds completeness to her albums. But after two years of performing on her own, Chesley feels that she is coming to the limits of what she can do on stage solo.

“I feel self-contained when I’m on stage,” she says. “I don’t move around a lot. It feels sparse. I like that I’m intimately connecting with the audience, but I’m hoping to make it a bit more epic. I’d like to play and share the stage with other musicians too. It’s a lot to deal with everything yourself, like driving to the venue, dealing with other bands when someone tries to move me up on the bill, and when things like my effects pedals don’t work right. At times like those, I really need to rely on another band member.”

Even so, Chesley’s solo performance that evening at the Empty Bottle erupted with power and strength, filling the venue with an undeniable force. Chesley’s performance was raw, naked, and revealing, and it provides inspiration by showing how a cello can rock, roar, and growl gorgeously when in the hands of Helen Money.


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Nails joins Southern Lord Records

Freshly signed to a new label, Nails joins the likes of Sunn O))), Pelican, and Goatsnake under heavy metal giant Southern Lord Records with the re-release of their album, Unsilent Death. Comparable to a cross between Amrep bands of the nineties and Cro-Mags Age of Quarrel riffage, Nails’ severe sound is brutal, vicious, and raw, hurtling at hypersonic speeds.

A new release is in the works under the new label for early 2011, but in the meantime Nails is taking to the road with fellow label-mates in the Southern Lord-sponsored The Power of the Riff Festival in LA on August 8. A cross-country tour is also scheduled for early September.

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