The Espresso Machine – 2021 Issue 1

Welcome to The Espresso Machine – a new column I’m starting to cover some of the releases I didn’t have a chance to do a full review for. For this first issue, I took a look at some of the releases from the Burnt Coffee Promos desk, as well as my own personal Bandcamp and Spotify lists, and scooped up a handful that I wish I had more time to do a full review for. This batch of short reviews comes from releases from January through March of 2021. That doesn’t mean I won’t revisit those months in later issues of The Espresso Machine, but here are some of the albums I meant to review at the time or just wanted to shout out. Hopefully you enjoy this column, I plan to post new issues of The Espresso Machine every two or three months in an attempt to play catch-up with my unrealized reviewing ambitions. Salute!

Acid Mammoth – Caravan (Stoner Doom, released March 5th via Heavy Psych Sounds Records)

There was a fair bit going on in the stoner doom world from late February through mid-March. That’s a good thing if you’re a fan of the subgenre, but unfortunately that was complicated by the ridiculously high bar set by that excellent Spelljammer album. That said, there was quite the buzz about the new Acid Mammoth record from stoners and doomers alike. It’s not hard to see why this band caught on, and while I think Caravan has a ton going for it, the album ultimately drags in the latter half. Still though, I dig the band’s almost extraterrestrial take on stoner doom. In my unfinished draft of the review, I likened the vocals to something that wouldn’t be out of place on Futurama (and I mean that in the best way possible). Caravan is still an essential listen for fans of stoner doom, but if you aren’t already sold on the subgenre, I don’t think this will do much for you.

Breath – Primeval Transmissions (Meditative Doom, released February 5th via Desert Records)

Oh man, at some point I was going to do a series of reviews called “Every BREATH You Take,” where I reviewed the new albums from Breath, Breaths, and Humanity’s Last Breath. I missed the boat for two out of those three, but I’m going to at least try to make it right for Breath here. Breath are a bass and drum duo (love those) who arrive as listed – fully meditative doom. I’m enthralled with the saturated bass tone and choice drum fills on Primeval Transmissions, and the guest guitar solo on “Observer” is a nice touch. Where this album falls short though is the vocals. The vocal delivery gets old and a bit monotonous (figuratively, not literally) quickly, and doesn’t add much to the otherwise well-executed meditative vibe of the bass and drums. However, if you like everything Al Cisneros has been a part of, you’ll probably like Primeval Transmissions too.

Dust Lord/Bog Wizard – Four Tales of the Strange Split (Sludge/Doom Metal, released March 5th via The Swamp Records & The Cosmic Peddler)

Splits are fun, and on Four Tales of the Strange, Dust Lord and Bog Wizard seemed to have a ton of fun buddying up. In the battle between Lord and Wizard, it’s hard to tell who hit their fuzz pedal artillery harder. At least until the smoke, which was definitely caused by war and not drug paraphernalia, clears. There were a few things I had small quibbles with (Dust Lord‘s kick drum sound and the clean section on Bog Wizard‘s “Gelatinous Cube”, namely), but overall I’m stoked on the riffage coming out of both camps. I’m to excited see what career opportunities (that was one of the song titles! – you see, I’m actually a really good writer you guys…) await for both Dust Lord and Bog Wizard!

Flood Peak – Fixed Ritual EP (Blackened Sludge/Post-Metal, released January 22nd via Anima Recordings)

Dissonance is nothing new to black, sludge, or post-metal, but the way Flood Peak makes use of it on Fixed Ritual feels more menacing and haunting than usual. I’m all about this band’s sound, and I’m really glad they landed on my radar in early January. I don’t know that the EP needed to end with two slow post-metal cuts, but I don’t know, I also wouldn’t know which to cut – they’re both pretty great! I’m looking forward to seeing what this band does on a full album, but I wouldn’t be mad if they kept churning out EPs of this quality.

Luna Shadows – Digital Pacific (Synthpop/Alt-pop, released February 12th via +1 Records)

If the Breath/Breaths bonanza above wasn’t enough, the first quarter of this year also brought us albums from both Luna Shadows and Lunar Shadow. There’s a good chance I’ll cover Lunar Shadow in the next issue, but for now I’m talking about the debut album from pop mastermind Luna Shadows. Digital Pacific is a concept album examining human relationships through humanity’s relationship with technology. Given that I mostly cover rock and metal, I have to point out this is a much more intriguing critical analysis of the smartphone age than most of the geriatric cloud-yelling I’m used to (looking at you, Maynard…). But that’s not to say you need to bust out the thesaurus to “get” this album. Digital Pacigic is mostly bangers front-to-back, and Shadows does an excellent job of telling the album’s story. There are only a few misses (“Palm Springs”) on the album’s otherwise phenomenal tracklist – even my usual gripe with long albums (Digital Pacific is 18, yes, 18 tracks long) doesn’t hold water here. If the thought of the narrative-building of Lana Del Ray mixed with the stellar synth and vocal sensibilities of Purity Ring interests you at all, go check this album out!

Kaupe – Cognitive Dissonance (Instrumental Prog, self-released February 22nd)

Don’t let the words “instrumental” or “prog” scare you off. Despite preconceptions around those genre tags, Cognitive Dissonance is anything but self-indulgent, pretentious, or boring. The band keeps the thrills a-rollin’ front to back on this thing with songs that rarely breach the 4- or 5-minute mark. At any given moment the band can morph between sounding like anything from Liquid Tension Experiment to Torche. But make no mistake, Kaupe sounds like Kaupe first and foremost with their mad-scientist synths, bone-rattling riffs, and intricate drum patterns.

Knoll – Interstice (Deathgrind, released February 26th via Sludgelord Records)

I love this for pretty much the same reasons I loved those two Serpent Column releases last year, except this album leans more deathgrind. On Interstice, Knoll is never comfortable sitting still, yet the band still manages to create a cohesive work of art. Whether it’s the unwavering fury of tracks like “Callus of the Maw”, the somehow catchy stomps of “Earth’s Iron Lung” and “Inherent of Life”, or the RPG battle from hell that is “Scattered Prism”, Knoll never fail to impress – despite repeatedly smashing your face in over the album’s 35 minutes. 

ORCumentary – Fully ORChestrated (Symphonic/Folk/Melodic Death Metal, self-released February 5th)

This album is pretty impressive from a musical standpoint. The ORChestration in particular is very lush and larger-than-life, and the death grunt vocals certainly sound like an orc. But uh… the humor behind this project is completely lost on me. Though maybe if you’re entrenched in the world of Tolkien you’ll appreciate ORCumentary more than I did.

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound (Psychedelic/Garage Rock, released February 5th via What Reality? Records)

Once I got over the terrible band name, I really went head-over-heels for this album with its big riffs, catchy choruses, and all-around good vibes. Some of the album’s critics have leveled that this album does nothing new for the band or psych rock as a whole, but the difference between this album and its critics is this album would actually be fun at parties…

Weezer – OK Human (Baroque Pop/Pop Rock, released January 29th via Crush Music)

Phenomenal orchestration mixed with the deranged musings of what I can only guess is a middle-aged man who just now discovered impact font memes in the year 2021…

Thanks for reading this first issue of The Espresso Machine! Hopefully you enjoyed it – let me know if you’d like to see more of these.

– Alex

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