Steven's top five - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #52

Okay. 52 articles. Hasn’t quite been a year of this blog but a yearsworth of what are ostensibly weekly articles. Well mo’fo’s I got something special for y’all today if you’re interested? You are? Great. Well recently somebody asked me what my all-time top-hole top-notch top-drawer top five bands were... The fucking nerve! The righteous sociopathy of the dude who just fucking asks a question like that. Rather like straight-up demanding to know how much money I earn, or how many women I have had the pleasure of. It’s just one of those things an honest chap doesn’t ask another honest chap unless he knows the duelling glove has been left at home. I like top five arguments. Top five side one, track ones? No sweat. Top five Rolling Stones tunes? Cutting it close but okay. Anyway, I figured I’d dedicate my 52nd article of what is supposed to be a weekly series exploring my own top five bands (guesses in a hat kids) and exactly how one comes to such a momentous decision, like being at a voting booth except with something that actually matters.

Going through your top five is not as simple as ratting off the five bands you love, y’know, it’s a vital and important process and at the same time totally pointless because my decisions and opinions will have changed by the time this article slithers onto the interweb. There are so many things to consider when coming up with a top five. There’s no specificity. If I were to pick top five records to take to a desert island (desert island disks, if you will) they’d be things that bear up to repeated listenings, something like Wire’s Pink Flag and the Stooges’ Raw Power; but would those go in my top five normally? Maybe not. A lot of albums are like movies and benefit from large gaps between them, but are superb nonetheless. Remember too that we’re talking bands so that brings up another old chestnut... do we include only bands whose discography is flawless? What about bands that are still going and their work might turn shoddy in future? What about honorary places? For example, I love Black Sabbath more than pretty much any other band seeing as their first four records be the cheat sheet from which we now all work, but if I include them I’m gonna have to come to terms with all the Dio stuff, and Born Again in particular and I’m not sure I could live with that on my conscience, knowing that somewhere out there I might have gushed about how great Black Sabbath were... I mean top five is a prestigious place if you respect my opinion, and found all that post-Volume 4 weak shit. I’m working on an article about the Melvins, so they probably won’t make an appearance. Any recommendation for the Melvins needs quite a few qualifying statements and guidelines to ease you through the forest of their discography while avoiding all the bear traps.

Also, do I go for all the usual? Do I include the Beatles? Without whom rock and roll may never have come about. Do I include Nirvana without whom rock and roll would be a very different place today. Even though I don’t particularly like either of those bands. I also really dislike it when someone gives their top five and you can almost play influential band bingo. Any time a critic lays out their top bands it’s always a lineup of all the usual suspects, Beatles, Nirvana, Sabbath, Neil Young, and while that might well be your opinion, I always feel I enjoy top fives a helluvalot more when I can search out those which are recommended. But then how far do you go down that path? What if you’re preaching to the music savvy and they’ve already heard of Budgie and May Blitz? Then you get down into recommending bands that got together four weeks ago and that’s just bullshit.

My list would be different if I did it in December than if I did it in June. As it is it’s kinda spring and I’m looking forward to the clocks going forward, giving me an extra hour at the pub which is always welcome. Thus my choices are going to be different than they’ll be next week. As I pointed out to that grotesquely rude oaf at the time, I run a blog the sole purpose of which is to link you to great people, great bands, great albums and great things in the music world so really I should trot out my old line “read my blog, it’ll explain everything”. But there are so many things I ain’t got round to talking about. I do the blog in no particular order. I am not trying to say that Isis and Torche are more important or better than Blue Cheer, but I just write it that week how I’m feeling and you cats get to read it. There ain’t no plan. Let the chaos reign! We’ve talked about people. We’ve done live shows, we’ve talked about bands and we’ve talked about instruments. Mostly it’s albums because usually you talk in terms of paintings if you like portraiture and usually you talk in terms of single films if you like cinema. It’s the grouping by which we’re usually asked to enjoy things. And what of discographies, can I add Detroit’s excellent Pleasure Seekers to my list even though they only have two songs? Both the songs are superb so maybe they fit in as a ‘perfect’ band.

AND that’s without including the question of genre. I’m a heavy head and like my metal and heavy rock, as my posts probably lead you to deduce, so if I just name my favourite band and their four touring buddies... that feels a bit redundant. I’d like people to take a look at this list and go out and find the bands and be impressed or surprised by five diverse picks. Maybe I ought to do one of these every 52 articles to give you another heads-up on what I’m feeling.

So we begin. These five favourites are going to be in no particular order except what one might refer to as Freudian order. I’m half tempted to twitpic the notepad from whence these solutions sputtered. I won’t obviously but something about it seems kinda nice. I’ll explain each of my picks in depth because these are going to take some explaining, some justifying and a coupla qualifying statements. Sleep and Blue Cheer have been omitted though they would be here. Consider this my top seven then if you want to be such a fussy motherfucker about it. Basically I would say that Those two Sleep records (Holy Mountain, Dopesmoker) represent music bliss, as does Vincebus Eruptum and the first side of Outsideinside. Between them those albums have given me thousands of hours of mad genius and beauty in a way that I’ve already fucking conveyed. You see why doing a top five in a blog where all I do is go on about how great things are is more than a little redundant? Not present also are Sabbath and the Melvins. Sabbath because, while those first four records are mad genius fired out of a cannon, after that the discography dribbles away to the point where Dio is brought in and I just can’t look at myself in the mirror knowing I’ve said I like Black Sabbath. Melvins recommendation, or lack of one, is more for your benefit than mine. I am unashamedly and without exception a fan of the Melvins and reckon each of their full lengths is worth talking about, hence why I’m putting together a wee Melvins symposium to try to avoid most of the pitfalls of Melvins stuff and guide you to the accessible stuff first so that you can more fully appreciate the less normal things. Not included is Pure Reason Revolution, because while the Dark Third is the greatest album of all time, the records quickly degraded after that to be self-referential and good, but not worth speaking about. And anyone approaching PRR will feel a distinct disappointment creep over them looking at this. Gone too is Om. A band I love almost as much as their previous incarnation Sleep. Again, I just can’t square recommending to you a band that pretty much does one song. You know about my reservations about all of Earth’s post-Hex career. Though there is a band in here I have trailed before.

Hawkwind. 1969 - 1977
Yes, if I name my weekly column after the greatest album by a superb band who kinda trailed a whole swathe of the underground mung worship said column then goes on to trivialise, it ain’t no surprise that I love me some Hawkwind. Being one of those first bands to equate the exploration of outer space with the exploration of inner space. Their records, particularly the first five, are cosmic gateways floating in space to a kind of rhythm paradise. I dig them okay! Just go listen to Psychedelic Warlords off Hall of the Mountain Grill if you don’t believe me. Great live albums too. I just totally dig the attention to riffs and the obsession with these proto-metal riffs wrapped around a joint like nobody was doing back then, and that at one point they had Lemmy (yes, of Motorhead) as a bassist.

Why until 1977, you may ask. Why, Hawkwind are still active to this day Steven, you’ve got your facts wrong there. No I fuckin’ haven’t, Hawkwind died in 1978 after the release of Quarks, Strangeness and Charm. Dave Brock continues to drag out the death of the band to this day, it’s true, but in the same way that a close-to-the-end person after a massive health scare will sometimes return home as if they’re better, but they are colder, more frail and just not who they used to be. Hawkwind released seven albums and I’d say they had a pretty flawless run. And that fuckin’ album art! This is also probably the shortest of my explanations so you better have a comfy chair.

Enjoy this lil' psychedelic trip to their most immediate song.

Bardo Pond. 1991 –
Even without the taper-friendly stuff, these guys are still one of the most prolific bands of the modern age. I count nearly 24 hours worth of music from this band alone, counting side projects and little diversions. A band that really can just swim about all evening in the communal pool at a party, not even noticing it’s there really, and when you leave you realise you’ve completely fallen in love. The sultry set of pipes on Isobel Sonnenberger ethereally float across the psychedelic soundscapes. One of the joys of Bardo Pond is, you’ve never got and heard it all. I’m still working through my back catalogue of when I stumbled upon all seven self-released Volumes and that’s without delving into the live stuff. Really they are generation (wh)Y’s Grateful Dead. There are commercial albums to get into (well, more commercial, this is Bardo Pond we’re talking about here not the fucking Foo Fighters) with songs under 10 minutes and actual structures, but where you’ll fall in love, the point at which all of Bardo Pond’s layered stupefying awesomeness will make you just want to stay in space forever, never come down, never attempt re-entry is in the experimental stuff. Wild 45 minute flights of fancy, with no destination you are just floating in space with the entire electric orchestra as your soundtrack. Stanley Kubric oughta taken these guys to Jupiter!

What does the name mean? From the band’s website: “Bardo” comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bardo is the point where a soul arrives upon its corporal body as it is dying. During the course of the Bardo there is a determination as to where the soul will then proceed to, based upon the soul’s prior life experiences. This moment and place was determined to be a good place for fishing, hence “pond”. Love them yet? Go check out Be a Fish if you haven’t yet been converted.

Thorns. 1981 – 2001
The best name, the best kind of heavy metal back when it was still good, Thorns are breathtaking. Like all the Black Metal bands of the period, all the band members have a place in that titanic retarded clusterfuck surrounding Varg and Euronymous but that shouldn’t stop us enjoying the music. I still list Stellar Master Elite as one of the most brutal songs ever recorded. Though Thorns only recorded two demos and an album (plus a kind of best-of of collected crap) they didn’t have enough time to screw anything up. I’m going to use some tracks from Grymyrk in a compilation of drumless tracks I’m trying to put together as it is as violently raw in every slightest aspect, being a brutal maelstrom of gnashing guitars and grinding bass timelocked somewhere between an eight-bit game soundtrack and the noise of a chainsaw grinding through someone’s chestplate.

Then in 2001 they released their self-titled debut, and it was just a violently dark haven for all of the brutally fast riffs that their black metal compatriots had almost abandoned. The addition of the awesome vocals with just the right combination of rasping, screaming and growling to make them brutal. Thorns have earned their place by having a flawless discography, short though it may be.

8 Foot Sativa. 1998 – 2007
Underground death metal band from New Zealand graced with the most consistently excellent discography you’ll see, cartoonishly silly at the start and moving onwards through enjoyable pop sensibilities and on to quality death metal riffage without ever losing their enjoyability. Their hardly-heard 2007 album Poison of Ages really is one of the finest records in the genre; the previous record contains slabs of the most sustained quality riff-writing since Sabbath and that isn’t my usual casual hyperbole. I like this band so much I have their limited edition cds shipped all the way from NZ specially. I don’t write about a lot of death metal ‘cause I feel the genre is kinda dead right now without any significant or interesting updates, but if you’re looking for the literal definition of drowned in sound you can find it on these records. Speed and genuine lyrical originality. Their records come and go from Amazon and iTunes, sometimes they’re hard to get ahold of but if y’all are at all interested in picking up some seriously solid sounds I highly recommend any of their releases.

Probably a consolation prize because while absolutely excellent across the board, 8 Foot Sativa were also the band that segwayed me into extreme music, without them I’d never have found Little Women or Earth for that matter, so thanks 8 Foot. I can't find a video, though their final release Sleepwalkers is about on youtube somewhere.

Heliotropes. NOW!
Now I am not just doing this to further suck up to a band to which I have already professed my deepest and sincerest admiration, and nor is it to point out that they have a new release coming out soon on vinyl that y’all should check out (nudge nudge wink wink). While the little Brooklyn all-girl quartet has only released two EPs (and the platitude “a single swallow does not a summer make”) they really haven’t been off my turntable since I first heard them and have racked up literally hundreds of plays in that time and they still haven’t lost their freshness. Now while this may be EP quality and the band would fall flat on the album when given more space to cock things up, but I have to hold out just a tiny smidgeon of hope in my flinty emotionless interior that something in the future will be good, even if it’s just a fleeting hope to keep me from putting a gun in my mouth. It is my sincere belief that repeated daily spins of this record kept the winter away from Britain with its faultless grunge power and we spent winter solstice blessed out of our idiot minds worshipping the never-setting black spinning sun of this pure spacerock dreamsludge colossus.

I also come with a question. How the hell do you do it? How come time and again every spin of your EP is more and more edifying and enjoyable? How come it sounds great after I’ve dragged my hungover ass out of bed for an early lecture? And still sounds awesome at three am when I’m working on my next hangover? And couldn’t kick more ass in all of the intervening daily spins? You’ve made the beer of albums, y’know that? Beautiful at whatever temperature, whatever time, whatever scenario. Your two records are becoming like a good friend to me, at every turn in my life, there you are with your sweet energetic and soothing vocal and deft guitar stroke. How can such beautifully simple and enjoyable songs be deep as the Mariana trench without excluding the poor saps just new to taking mass at your sonic cathedral? Please give us your secret, are you drinking some very strange wine or taking some very strange pills? Smoking some killer skunk or shooting your veins full of powdered Hendrix first-pressings? Do you do yoga or help orphans or have crippling drug debt you need to settle? You have to share it so that others can follow in your footsteps and we can have a whole generation making music that is this good.

I don’t know what you’re doing, but it is working. And all I request of you Heliotropes girls is that you keep on going. Don’t stop. The universe is full of downers; winter follows summer follows winter, people might tell you that you aren’t the almighty’s own seraphim on a soul quest to liberate us from our grey dull lives in a flash of Technicolor and dreamscape rock and roll of the most primal quality. These people and forces are downers, sent to test us and to make the quality times that much more enjoyable. The natural reaction of some people to the kind of quality you girls seem hardwired to produce is hostility and bad vibes, some people keep their ears shut to the kind of grooves you put out. These people are sleepwalking through existence never knowing that out there somewhere, on the golden periphery where the sun sets every night there lies life and it is beautiful and shocking and vibrant and terrifying and so completely hopelessly worth every second. What you are doing is something so incredible I struggle to find words for it. Never let anyone change your sound. Nothing is as good as your sound, so don’t sell it or yourselves because whatever you gain will be nothing compared to the Heliotropes groove that could have been if you do. Never stop making your music. Keep blowing our minds. Heliotropes can be found on Facebook and just got signed, so expect something special from these gals sometime this year.
Which takes me neatly to my final point (im a riter!). As much of a pessimist as I am, believing as I do that doomplayers like Adele produce exactly the same kind of feelings one would get at hearing that shiny black .357 click in your mouth, I have to hope that my favourite band hasn’t formed yet, my favourite album hasn’t been pressed yet and that somewhere out there, even with all this Blue Cheer genius in our record collections, out there somewhere working its way through subconscious waves is something that’ll make all the conventionally good music look like lift music compared to pure sonic bliss. I am waiting for someone to nail the beauty of that image, and then someone else to outdo them, and at the moment the closest anyone comes is Heliotropes.

If you have any opinions about my five top bands of all time, please do keep them to yourself.
Written under duress by Steven.

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