LP review

Vinyl Visions: Hexvessel - No Holier Temple

Hexvessel | No Holier Temple | Svart Records | 2012   On Hexvessel's tumblr, the band's founder Mat "Kvohst" McNerney describes making No Holier Temple as "the sound of a cult, all focused on summoning the same magic, joined in prayer, haunted by the same demons... This isn’t about using symbols of the occult. This is about a way of living that returns the old gods to their rightful place. We’re a family that worships nature through word and sound. We hope you will join us.” Kvohst couldn't be more accurate when explaining his self-described "tree-folk" band.

   Based out of Helsinki, Hexvessel blend the Black-Metal/ Black Sabbath sensibilities so prevalent in Scandinavia with a mystical-folk streak. The songs on No Holier Temple range from chant-like invocations to full-on stoner-folk-rock, each song drenched in the cold dampness of the fjords. Kvohst's singing is akin to Magnus Pelander's of Witchcraft which only amplifies the druid-like mysticism of the record. The groups eight members fill No Holier Temple with fuzzed guitars, accordion, horns, clarinets, Rhodes keys, chanting lines, and even a balalaika making the record sound like it was recorded at some ancient rite deep inside the forest.

24" x 24" 'No Holier Temple' Poster   This connection between No Holier Temple and the forest is the meat of the record. The gorgeous 12" liner notes included with the LP are filled with John Muir quotes extolling the virtues of the woods and the sides of the double LP are labeled: Side Ash, Side Birch, Side Cedar, and Side Douglas Fir after species of trees. The connection doesn't end there either, songs on the album include "Woods to Conjure," "A Letter in Birch Bark," and "Are You Coniferous?" containing lyrics like "This is a cold wet camp when the fire won't kindle | And you're damp to the bone and miles from home | When the trees shiver all through the timbers." This isn't just some kind of 'cool' aesthetic theme to organize a record, but, as Kvohlst intones in the quote which leads this piece off, a call-to-arms of the naturalist metal-heads. We've seen bands like Washington state's Wolves In the Throne Room thrive channeling the landscape of the Pacific Northwest to inform their music. Hexvessel are no where near as heavy as Wolves In the Throne Room but their topics and concerns are similar, and both appeal to a type of old world lifestyle.

 

   The first 400 copies of No Holier Temple come with an embroidered patch (eight versions were made) that represents the band members by a forest animal. There's an owl, wolf, hare, and others. My copy came with the fox, which delighted me to no end - maybe it's the red hair, but I've always identified with foxes. As I consider its location on my jacket, I can't help but think of it as an indoctrination into some secret society. After all, patches have long filled this role, whether as symbols affiliating a biker to his particular gang or the merit badges of a boy scout, they define our allegiances and begin to operate as talismans from our pasts. I think that this is Kvohst's goal, to unite us under nature's occult. "Are you coniferous?" Kvohst asks, as if for volunteers, "Do your leaves last all year?" There are others like you.

Permanent Record - Best LPs of 2011 - Flaming Lips Collaboration Series

   On the spindle for the Flaming Lips / Neon Indian 12" EP the phrase "The Flaming Lips Love You" is etched onto the vinyl. With three different collaboration EPs - with Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, and Lightning Bolt respectively - Flaming Lips have gone ahead and proved that sentiment.

   These EPs are a record collector's wet dream. All of the releases are from limited runs (although the exact numbers are unclear), pressed onto different combinations of colored wax, and are vinyl only releases - no .mp3 downloads or CDs of any kind. And while some groups delegate the weirder/experimental/unlistenable parts of their oeuvre to exist only on wax, The Flaming Lips give us a lot of top-rate material here, especially given that The Flaming Lips are no strangers to the weirder/experimental/unlistenable side of music.

   The first EP with Neon Indian is the mellowest of the affair offering great low-key songs and the wonderfully understated "Alan's Theremin." The second EP comes from their collaboration with IDM'er Prefuse 73. The two produce a wonderfully synthesized sound, a cohesiveness the belies the speed at which the EPs were made. Once again, our record spindle advises, this time promoting to: "Legalize Marijuana NOW!" An apt recommendation when giving this EP a spin. The EP takes the textured and movement oriented pieces that Guillermo Scott Herren has been constructing for his Prefuse 73 recordings and mating them with The Flaming Lips' s undisputed mastery of the stoner-jam. These two come together to make some epic tunes, most notably "Guilliermo's Bolero" which constitutes all of Side-B."Legalize Marijuana Now!" says Warner Brothers/Lovely Sorts of Death Records

   The third EP collaboration that the Lips released in 2011 was with noise-rock dignitaries Lightning Bolt. With their abrasive punk demeanor and penchant for noise, Lightning Bolt is the most sensible of The Flaming Lips' collaborators, and it shows. Tracks like "I Wanna Get High (But I Don't Want Brain Damage)" and "I'm Working At NASA On Acid" might make the most single-worthy tracks from the sets, but the strengths of these releases lie anywhere but in their single potential.

   All three EPs share the same design concept: a textless cover featuring a close-cropped detail of a song file (presumably a track off the album in question) in black-and-white. The inner sleeve is the same, except in a wild array of brightly saturated colors. Each disc is colored in a wonderful marble and the set features some of the best song names around. Including the aforementioned "I'm Working At NASA On Acid" there's also "Superman Made Me Want To Pee" (w/Prefuse 73) and "Is David Bowie Dying?" (w/Neon Indian).

   While, understandably, each EP has its own sound, the group does play well together. Many of the songs build upon the dark and brooding sound The Flaming Lips have been cultivating since 2009's Embryonic, colored with either Neon Indian's 80's sensibilities, Prefuse 73's detail, or Lightning Bolt's abrasive bravado. In all cases, these acts have embraced their experimentations and instead of trying to polish them into something sleek and perfect, have played up the aurally expressive and off-the-cuff qualities to take us on a strange journey (seemingly always to outer space with Wayne Coyne and his bunch) than just merely adding a few more tracks to the library. Where some acts seem to have a problem curating their releases, The Flaming Lips always seem to have meaning to their experimentations, something gained. Coyne has announced that 2012 will have more of these kinds of collaborations. Talk is that it could be with Nick Cave, Death Cab For Cutie, and Ke$ha. One thing's for sure, we're in for another good year from The Flaming Lips.