Sunday, 21 May 2017
Review: 2 From Tonzonen - Grombira - Grombira / Volvopenta - Yoshiwara
There is one thing that you cannot lay at the door of Tonzonen Records and that is that they are predictable: while all their releases nominally fall into the 'psychedelic' category, the depth and variety of these releases show scant regard for genres or tags and the emphasis is firmly on quality. Running the gamut from the dystopian kosmische of Paekward (an album I return to time after time) via the improvised jam-based space rock of Gnall to the stoner rock bluster of Kalamata and everything in between, the Tonzonen roster is damned impressive. The eclectic choice of releases is typified by these two albums - both excellent and both very, very different: Grombira bedded deep in eastern melodies and sitar heavy grooves and the post-rock stylings of Volvopenta.
Grombira - Grombira
Grombira are self-styled purveyors of 'Bavarian Oriental Space Rock', a description that is intriguing and certainly whets the appetite. They are 3 dudes - sheyk rAleph (Saz, Oud, Sitar, flute, synths and vocals), Fredh Al Fezer (Drums) and Tommi Tarek (Bass) - who have produced an album that is hypnotic and imbued with mysteries of the orient.
Opening with 'Pürreé', a slow burning number that immediately throws you deep into the souk with the rich, ethnic instrumentation of eastern climes. It is track built on atmospheres, conjuring the sights and smells of exotic far flung places. Just when you are relaxing into the reverie it produces it explodes into a space rock freakout - the oriental stylings are still there, just with added octane. 'Carpe Noctem' is a far trippier affair that sounds almost 'new age'. Everything is built around the sitar which weaves mystical patterns through which run hypnotic rhythms and ethereal melodies. Just as chilled is 'Caravan' but in a more acoustic manner with the guitar bordering on flamenco at times. There is a stillness and a richness about this track that is luxurious and tranquil. 'Goats In Space' sees the trio head back into space rock territory. After the sitar based intro it grows into something more recognisable and far more rockier. The eastern motif still runs deep through it but played out via heavy guitar and some solid rhythms. 'Priest Of The Horny Kong' (fantastic title) is a brilliant track. It pulls together everything we have heard thus far...some ace space rock with those lush eastern vibes running through it...and leads nicely into closing track 'Selma' which is probably my favourite. It has an irresistible bass line that gives things a groovy feel and the tempo matches making it a track that is a genuine toe-tapper. The sitar once again is the star though, had this track been played with guitar I'm guessing it would not have the charm and downright infectiousness that it has.
Grombira have produced a little oriental gem with this album. Some artists in the past have dallied with eastern instrumentation with varying degrees of success and, it must be said, some 'psych' bands have thrown sitars into tracks hoping that it will give things a real psychedelic feel. However, Grombira are different, they have built an album around these ethnic instruments, not as gimmicks or effects but as the very base of what they do. The result is a collection of songs that have authenticity and sincerity and sound pretty damned good as well! The album can be purchased via the Tonzonen webshop here and comes in CD or vinyl (300 Orange and 200 black)formats.The digital version can be streamed/purchased via the band's Bandcamp page here.
Volvopenta - Yoshiwara
Now, this is a beast of a different colour. Where Grombira use rich eastern influences, Volvopenta's output is harder and based on post-rock, albeit with a neo-kraut bent. So, very different but still just as good. I admit, I know very little about the band but the fact that Tonzonen picked them up and Eroc provided mastering duties, that's good enough for me!
The album opens with 'Beton' and what a fine way in which to start..some rich guitar (the melody of which sounds uncannily like Tull's 'Living In The Past' at times) and rock solid rhythms come together to form a track with a foot in many camps - it wavers between stoner rock and post rock while having a distinctly psych/kraut bent. 'The Short Sleep' is an atmospheric post-rock track that veers, in true post rock style, between muted, melancholic passages and sections that are heavy with bombast and attitude. It is beautifully played and well structured and shows that these guys know exactly what they are doing. '28 Seconds In Hell' (which is actually over 7 minutes in length) is a brilliant track but hard to quantify. It has some excellent psychedelic guitar flourishes but on the whole is a dark, brooding number with tribal drums, some lovely washes of synth and plaintive, muted vocals. It is a track that defies genres and so I'm not going to ascribe any..it is just a very good track! The opening to 'Wolfskull' put me in mind of Dead Sea Apes, which is praise of the highest order - the same ringing guitars that portray vast, desolate open spaces with an atmosphere of dread. The vocals, when they arrive, are once again muted and have a gothic feel about them. Structure wise it takes the post-rock approach with the slower passages building and building until you know something has to give. This is easily one of the best tracks I've heard this year! 'Dirty Lights and Rain' is more of a neo-psych affair with swirling flurries of guitars and more solid drumming while 'G Song' builds from a pastoral, calm beginning into a maelstrom of noise - dissonent guitars, the crackle of feedback and a background of heavy fuzz. The album is closed with 'Rust' and another foray into post-rock, cycling between sedate passages of simple guitar chords and heavier passages full of strident guitar and crashing drums.
'Yoshiwara' is a tremendous album. I'll admit that it took some time to grow on me, but grow on me it did. The playing is immaculate - the band state that they 'love to play live' and this album speaks of many hours honing their craft. What I love so much it is that they do not restrict themselves to a particular style, they just play what they wanna play and the result is an album of style and distinction that will appeal to a real cross-section of music lovers. To go full circle, it also beautifully illustrates the Tonzonen ethos i.e. the style doesn't matter, it's quality that counts. The album is available from the Tonzonen shop here on vinyl format (be warned, the album is cut inside out - the needle should be placed on the inside and runs out to the edge!). The digital version can be streamed/purchased via the band's Bandcamp page here.