I review the new Frontier Records collaboration between Fabio Lione of Rhapsody and Allesandro Conti of Trick Or Treat for Overdrive Magazine.
I wrote this for Overdrive Magazine in Australia. This was a stormer.
It’s been one hell of a year, not just for music, but in general. Christ it was tough going, but from this burlap sack shit came some golden discoveries, shared here because I discovered them this year, though they may have come out earlier, because that’s how music works.
Slowly Building Weapons – Sunbirds (Art As Catharsis)
This is hardly surprising as I did the write-up on it for Astral Noize magazine’s Top 20 of this year, but I was only able to do that because it was a truly staggering piece of work. Legions ahead of their 11 year old debut Nausicaa, Sunbirds was amazing partly because it got made at all, its imposing shadow writ gargantuan across my sonic earscape. An essential record for any number of reasons, if you don’t check this out you are a donkey.
Om – Advaitic Songs (Drag City)
Yes, it’s from 2012, but I didn’t spend any time with this masterpiece until this year, and it became the record I listened to the most without exception. From beginning to end, the spirit of Advaitic Songs fed directly into my bloodstream and fed my very being, its total dedication to what it was being majestically inspiring in itself. This is a tremendous example of one of those records that’s extremely easy to listen to but very hard to play, due in no small part to the perfect rhythmic presence of Emil Amos of Grails on drums. Transcendent.
Probably Not – The Same Pain (Circle House)
I caught this band at the Cavern in Exeter by accident, as I was there to see Dead Ground, who were also very good, but Probably Not were incredible. No banter, supremely intense and honest and with the songs to back up not facing the crowd, The Same Pain was a true joy to experience. The fact that they’d only been a band for 5 months by the time this record was made gave me hope; hope that bands like this could still form and make records. Honestly brilliant, and I can’t wait for more out of them.
Piss Vortex – Future Cancer (Indisciplanarian)
A band that I listened to because of their ace/terrible name while trawling through videos from Obscene Extreme, this Danish quartet broke my face. Of the records I’ve heard, Future Cancer was a hair ahead of their other material, which is all excellent. A worryingly thrilling sound that owes as much to the likes of Breach as it does to crust, Coalesce and breakneck grind, I couldn’t recommend this highly enough to fans of extreme music if this was the only extreme band in existence. Staggering.
Kikagaku Moyo – House In The Tall Grass (GuruGuru Brain)
Floating out of Japan with the grace of a muslin curtain, I discovered this fabulous team of throwbacks when I started getting back into Bandcamp again. There’s loads of top stuff on this label, but I spun House In The Tall Grass every day for a fortnight upon hearing it at first, and revisited it for the remainder of the year. Completely devoid of brutality in any form, this encapsulated everything I wanted from old psych, right down the production. If you’ve got a drive to take somewhere and you need to feel peace and excitement at once, this is the record for you. Great.
Convulsing/Siberian Hell Sounds – Split (Art As Catharsis)
The second entry from the Australian label in this list (who also put out Hashashin’s magnificent opus this year), this split was fucking outrageous. Listening to Convulsing’s Engraved Upon Bleached Bone first was like undergoing major surgery while getting a serious kicking, and I was genuinely concerned that this would be a one horse race, but Siberian Hell Sounds’ The Breath Of The Beast was equally enthralling and fierce, the 40 minute run time felt like about 60 seconds. 60 seconds in a burning building, but 60 seconds all the same. Colossal.
Beastwars – The Death Of All Things (Destroy)
Directly responsible for restoring my faith in sludge and doom after a good couple of years chasing those musical dragons, the New Zealand quartet’s third record was an oddly elegant effort, with no dead wood and a welcome, likeable character. Broad of sound and with proper songs, The Death Of All Things reminded me of how I felt when I discovered Ahab’s game-changing The Divinity Of Oceans. A tremendous record to listen to when doing just about anything, the news of their singers’ ailing health and a subsequent Instagram post showing that they were back playing together was one of the best moments of the year. Super.
Hobo Magic – The World Today
This Australian trio delivered a massive shot in the arm despite their awful name. From the initial seconds of Follow The Holy Riff, this album delivered at least two trucks of The Goods, devoting its every moment to being as meatily rewarding as possible. Even I felt proud of this record and I had nothing to do with it. Resplendent in its hulking size, The World Today is pair of open arms hugging you into The Riff, not just the in melodic terms but in spirit. Giant.
Diocletian – Gesundrian
One of the most compelling listens I’ve had all year came to light in the last few days, a direct result of delving into the New Zealand scene through gig posters, blog posts and internet radio recommendations. Gesundrian is a monstrously oppressive sounding album, the fourth from these deathly kings. Blasting like cannon across a bloodied, muddy battlefield, Diocletian seem intent on demonstrating how it feels to be trampled by rampant horses through sound alone. Where many have tried and failed, Diocletian sound like heavy sword combat without a shred of irony but plenty of iron. Unyielding.
Hopefully you enjoyed my list, though it’s unlikely you would if you like Waylon Jennings or Lil Pump, but if that’s your jam, hey, you go.
One thing that has always surprised me is how little interest people take in plectrums, or, to be more accurate, how disdainful players can be about spending money on their picks.
In the last few years, I became increasingly fascinated with picks. I tried out all sorts of things; different materials, companies, thicknesses, bevels, shapes, you name it. Presented here are my findings, which I hope will be of help or interest.
Remember, the pick is your first point of contact with the strings, and if you want a simple demonstration of how much difference it makes, play an acoustic with a red Dunlop .55mm, then with a blue 1mm, and tell me you can’t hear a difference.
If you’ve ever wondered why shredders favour the eternally-loseable Jazz III, it’s down to two things; the hand position generally required for trem picking, and the beveling of the plectrums’ edge.
A hard-edged pick like a Dunlop Tortex 1mm means that you are meeting the string with little give in terms of angle, like walking with your shoulders completely square through a crowd. The more resistance you’re met with, the more you have to push, and the more tiring playing becomes over a long period. Every strike of the pick against the strings sends a little vibration up your wrist, and over time this can worsen conditions like RSI, so having a pick that fits the force you play is extremely important.
Though I use a lot of picks for different things, the best edges I’ve come across are the Jim Dunlop Primetones, which have symmetrical bevels, allowing for a fast and even pick response, as well as a fluid feel while strumming. The 1.4mm triangle shape is the bollocks, so I’m recommending that.
So far, I’ve played with a few materials, so here’s a quickfire synopsis.
- Tortex: Dunlop created this following a welcome tortoiseshell ban in the 70’s, the idea being that it behaves the same way by sticking to your hand. The tone itself depends on the player wielding it a lot more than other materials, but overall it’s a balanced, ordinary sound. Easily replaced, which is handy, and consistent.
- Celluloid: I’ve never liked these, because they click against the strings and notch really badly. The tone is thin and lacks any real body, leaving you feeling disconnected from the instrument. The sort of picks you get free with magazines and lose instantly.
- Acrylic: Favoured by the likes of V-Picks and Gravity, acrylic has a brighter, more focused attack with more body than Tortex or Celluloid, and I’ve found the best results with it come from thicker gauges, i.e. 1.5mm and up. I’ve got some silly big ones from V-Picks, like the Snake, and although they can feel like a handful, the power is immense, especially the bottom end.
- Thermoset: A plastic that hardens significantly after being heated, Thermoset picks are most commonly associated with Chicken Picks from the Netherlands. The most confounding material on this list, the sound they produce is fantastic; bright, powerful, full of mass, but because of the nature of the molding process they need to be thick, so good luck getting one under 2mm. No joke, if you hybrid pick, nothing will touch this, but I’ve never found them ideal for strumming.
- Ultem: The most useful material, from my perspective, by miles, Ultem melts at a higher temperature, and when punched out has a naturally rounded edge. Someone told me this is what skateboard wheels are made from, but that’s polyurethane, though as I’m not a scientist I don’t know how closely related they are. Dunlop bought special machinery to make the Ultex picks, which were my gateway into fancy picks. Powerful and fast but not quite as focused as acrylic or as treble-conscious as thermoset, picks like the Dunlop Primtone have made this my number one.
- Metal: You know the ones; you bought one when you were 15. Maybe you wore it as a necklace, but you didn’t play with it for very long. ‘Zingy’ would be the word I’d use, but I always found metal an unnerving material to play with. Some people love these, but I’m not one of them.
- Nylon: An easy point of reference is to compare nylon to Tortex. Whatever gauge nylon you have, go back two thickness and that’s the Tortex equivalent. Great for players who do a lot of strumming, the sound is a bit limp and fluffy but perfect if you’re trying to achieve softness, or if you like a thick plectrum that doesn’t feel like you’re playing with a brick.
- Carbon Fibre: I’ve only played these in Jazz III form, but the material behaves exactly like active pickups; immediate power with cock-all dynamic, though if you’re playing tech death or similar and have little in the way of a clean tone, they are amazing. Utterly unyielding and harder than maths.
Of course, there are others, like stone, dinosaur (see here), animal protein, nut shells, coins etc, all of which have their advocates and detractors. I’ve never played with dinosaur or meteorite picks, though I imagine the effect to be similar to that of stone, except that everyone will hate you for being a douche.
Of all the materials listed above, acrylic has the most bottom end, thermoset the most brilliant highs, Ultem the most speed, and nylon the least everything, but this is only my experience. Being totally honest, I’d use the thermoset picks for everything if a) they were easier to strum with and b) they were slightly thinner, though I appreciate this is part of the process. If you really like to get in about it, I can’t recommend Ultem highly enough, and if you want to know if it’s right for you without hurling too much cash at the problem, try the Dunlop Ultex first and see how you go. This is, however, dependent on….
I like picks over 1mm, that’s my thing. I used to play very, very hard indeed when I was 21 and used the pink 71mm 500’s, but once I got onto hard picks, I understood that I could play less hard and have the pick do more of the work. I’d liken it to learning to let the PA do the work as a singer, rather than singing harder. My playing changed significantly once I had this revelation, and now when I play with regular picks it feels like I’m strumming with a bus ticket.
As a general rule, thicker = more power in your tone, though this does not equate to better for you. My pal Jamie, who is a ripping player, plays with those silly Dunlop red things, and my other mate Pin only uses thumbpicks. I even know a few people who like the original Dava control pick, which is useless, so it really is up to you.
Hopefully this was helpful to you. Check out some of the companies below and find your ideal match; I’m not affiliated with any of them in any capacity, I only want to be of help. Keep playing!
Jim Dunlop: http://www.jimdunlop.com
Chicken Picks: http://www.chickenpicks.com
Dragonheart Picks: http://www.dragonheartpicks.com
Fellow Plectrums: http://www.fellowplectrums.com
Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.
Drawing comparisons to the Stooges and Queens Of The Stone Age, Essex-born quintet The Dropper’s Neck have delivered their debut record, Second Coming. Recorded with Paul Tipler, who has Placebo, Idlewild and Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster on his rap sheet, it hits the streets firmly on the 29th of July.
Blessed with a guitar sound like rusty saws and a bass made of crumbling masonry, Second Coming’s title track kicks off with its legs apart, sweating and grunting away. Touchstones like early Danzig and eternal goth-rodders the 69 Eyes bury themselves deeply into the material, emerging from the mire as a whole entity. The spoken word section, however, is agonising, and genuinely difficult to listen to for it’s sheer awkwardness. No Kerouac diatribes here, just timid, counted-in vocals.
An early highlight comes in the shape of recent video “Darker Waters”, which has a truly solid chorus, the band battering away quite happily. The old-school garage vibe, highlighted so extensively in their online blurb and press, is blended with from-the-gutter stargazing, creating a halfway-house of adroit production and scuzzy, foaming guitar.
However, all the urgency in the world can’t detract from the vocals and appalling, inarticulate lyrics. Lloyd Matthews is a car-crash amalgam of Danzig, Homme and Ricky Wilson, but with screaming; screaming which, on “Sir Sibilance”, is both utterly shocking and woeful. “My Lime Tree‘s” ‘that’ll-do’ lyricism had me reaching for the bleach, in the hope that drinking it through my eyes would improve the words somehow.
There are a few tracks on this record that deserve a listen; the aforementioned “Darker Waters, I Am The Law” and closing track “Save Me From Myself” are full of merit, but in order to get to them the listener has to wade through a great deal of extremely samey rock. The dark, dangerous spirit made so much of by the rest of the world refuses to present itself, though perhaps this was due to me watching the bands’ almost motionless live footage first, and seeing those who had made the record standing around nonchalantly while their awesome tones punish the audience.
Taking the record as a whole, Second Coming sounds like a band one record away from being good. Even including some Shakespeare( ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’), The Dropper’s Neck just aren’t gelling properly, and despite that awesome guitar sound(and some on-the-edge soloing), they stop short of the volatile, swivel-eyed rawk they portend to be. Having only existed since 2011, more time is required to get the most from this cocktail.
Alright, but with plenty of room to improve.