Review + Q&A: Dead Man’s Eyes- III (2022, Tonzonen Records)

There are few records I have been looking forward to more this year than Cologne’s Dead Man’s Eyes and their third album, simply called III. For one thing they seem to grow with every output, and their previous album 2018’s Word Of Prey already showed an uncanny skill to bend all kinds of (psychedelic) rock out of shape and into something completely new and yet strangely familiar.

III kickstarts the record like a moped on a bumpy country road. It’s an easy going earworm that somehow reminds me of a Coen Brother’s movie, with its jailmen’s choir and jangly harmonica. I’ll Stay Around gives off a completely different vibe, feeling more like taking a walk outside on a warm and breezy day, the jazzy trumpet and beautiful Rhodes passages battling for attention in the background. A couple of spins will reveal a painter’s palette of layers that shows you the skill and song-craftsmanship these guys have developed over the years. It is this use of layers and little quirks that makes this record so extremely playable, a trait it does need with its meagre 30 minutes.

My favorite song has to be In My Fishbowl, a weird little thing, reminding of Blur at their blurriest. The lyrics in particular shine a strange light within singer Simon Mead’s brain; they are strange and yet you feel exactly what he is singing about.

With Time And Space Dead Man’s Eyes then show they don’t even need lyrics or vocals to draw and keep your attention with this smooth instrumental nu-jazzy intermezzo. Then Take Off Soon fuses Balthazar’s Belgian pop rock with Arctic Monkey’s British bravoure. On The Wire has the band driving the ol’ country on a moped again, with a joyful swagger that is extremely infectious and will be the shaker of hips on many barn dances in the German countryside. Into The Madness will do well at those dances too, boogying the night away with its flaming harmonica solos and great sped up barnburner finale at the end.

Two songs remain; the catchy uptempo pop rocker Never Grow Up displaying the band’s love of 60s rock like The Kinks or The Beatles, and Nobody At All, which feels like Dead Man’s Eyes version of a stadium rocker, complete with anthemic shouting and pumping rock drumming. It is a proper bang to end this great collection of songs.

Once again this band has grown, and proven themselves to be proper songsmiths. It can only be a matter of time until the world outside their hometown will recognize this prowess as well and throngs of people will be spinning III over and over again complaining about the shortness of this album while probably playing it more than any other record this year…

I tried to contact the band through email but had no luck, so I had to write my questions on a piece of of paper which I put into a bottle and threw upstream in the river Rhine. Well over a month later this is what returned to me on the neck of a skillfully navigating pigeon…all things considered it did not even take the band that much time to respond!

Hi guys, how have you been these days?
We’re feeling pretty excited about how people will react to this record. This time we tried something new: Three different vibes were what we aimed for. We spoke of ‘bundles’. One that feels you’re in a barn, one with songs you can nod your head to in an old smelly car and one that feels a bit dirty and not too overproduced. It was a bit of a challenge to write and eventually choose the right songs to fit those specific terms, or most importantly to overall make it feel like one record.

How has the pandemic been like for DME? Did it bring any upsides
next to the obvious downsides?
what are you going to do as a band if you can’t meet to make music anymore? it was and is a shitty situation but we are lucky that it didn’t hit us as hard as others. we tried to make the best out of it, found a way to still be productive and write new songs. One upside is the artistic freedom this band allows to each member in bringing songs to the table. Usually we end up working on ideas together. Sometimes one guy knows best what the song needs in terms of instrumentation. There are two songs on this record that were recorded almost entirely by one person. We were happy with the outcome and didn’t hear the need to rerecord any instruments over it. Other than that the record has been done with most of us exchanging ideas and shaping the songs.

Can you introduce the band to us? How long have you been a band?
We‘ve been making music since 2010. Nima joined in 2012 when we were still uncertain how to mix Meet me in the Desert. Nima got it done in his bedroom and joined the band exactly then. Phil got in touch with us in January 2018 when we played in Cologne Music Week at the wonderful „Stadtgarten“. That was Geir Johansen’s last show with us which left Phil’s jaw dropped because of Geir’s obvious insane drumming abilities. Phil has been a profound backbone of Dead Man’s Eyes ever since, constantly chasing the best way to improve our drumsound. He is now an amazing Mixing & recording engineer on his own at Fattoria Musica Studio in Osnabrück. Check out his work!

Can you walk me through the writing/recording process? You did a
lot yourselves, right?

That’s right, basically we do the whole production ourselves, except for mastering. The basic idea for a song usually comes from Peter. If we like it, we start working on it. This could mean many things: Sometimes the song is already perfect, sometimes it needs some extra love and care. Sometimes we change the entire arrangement, change the rhythm, change key, don’t end up using an acoustic drum kit and flip on some crazy samples. Sometimes it’s just vocals and handclaps. Nothing stands in the way of making the songs shine. Not even the pandemic.

As I told you before, I freakin’ love the new album III, the only
gripe I have with it is its length! Can you explain why there is not more
of it?

Of course we had more ideas that didn’t make it onto the album. The songs that you can hear on III were the ones that fit the ‘three-ish’ concept of the record. if the album appears too short, listen to it again – you might find some hidden sounds that you didn’t notice right away. The good thing about a record that ends too soon is that it might give you the urge to replay it. The good news is, we do have more songs that can be released in the future. They just did not feel right to be put on this album.

Can you tell me about your best experiences with the band so far?
We had so many. Even after thinking about it for a while, it wouldn’t be fair to pick out one in particular. Having a song on Spotify that has reached half a million streams is pretty unusual. Other than that we have had some crazy days on the road that we would not want to trade for anything.

What are you looking forward to most in 2022? And in 2023?
New songs and the rest we will see. This year we will be releasing a few videos so we are happy to get those out in the open.

Where do your lyrics come from mostly? I really like them, they’re
quite original :))

All lyrics are written by Simon Mead. He’s got that talent to make lyrics almost visible, giving the reader & listener a lot of room to imagine what’s going on on top of what the instruments are doing.

Who did the artwork? And what is the story behind it?
The artists name is Azura Daze. Definitely check out her work!

You have just released a really cool video, tell me more about it!
The video to our latest single „Take Off Soon“ was done in collaboration with Azura Daze, Paula Paez & Lenia Friedrich. They put an incredible amount of work into this. Finally we have an animated video of our own, which represents our song in the light in which we wrote it. We could not be happier!

Azura Daze had this to add: „Even though many things collided as we were finishing the video and it was not an easy time for us, we found the necessary energy and passion to deliver on time. But for while we started believing the project was a cursed artifact, passed on to us the by some angry god (…)“

Who are your biggest musical influences these days? What music
would you play in the band bus?

Viagra Boys, Gorillaz, Atahualpa Yupanqui, ODB & Warren Ellis.

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this
interview?

Listen to Dead Man’s Eyes – III on repeat, put your favourite song in your playlist & go buy some records. Also wash your hands.

DME, 2022

V.A.- International Space Station Vol. 1 (2022, Worst Bassist Records)

art by Lulu Neudeck

Space; is has always attracted and fascinated heavy psychedelic musicians. Ever since Hawkwind coined the term space rock, you could easily visualize why this type of music would associate with the deep dark outer limits. It represent weightlessness, endless travel, and a sense of being infinitely small in the gigantic body of the galaxy. And yet space poses a strange paradox to heavy psychedelic rock as well. For in space there can be only silence, and that is what these bands are anything but.

Take Nashville, USA’s trio ElonMusk for example. They are the opener on this Worst Bassist Records International Space Station compilation. With their instrumental psych rock jam Gods Of The Swamp Planet they paint pictures of serenely floating in space, regarding the Earth from great heights, and feeling completely and blissfully insignificant. The twenty-something minute track is a great opener of this album as it takes its good time slowly unfolding into a full blast before dying out again like a falling star…

ElonMusk

Germany’s renowned space rock power house Electric Moon is next, with a recording that still features the since departed Sula Bassana on guitar. They don’t spend any time lingering around the bush on Duality, but in stead kick off full fuzz force and deeply heavy. You can almost see the planets grinding into another while the bass relentlessly circles and the guitars flicker and howl. Tribal drums appear from the deep, and push the cacophony to even greater heights, ever pushing and pushing until a great crescendo and big comedown halfway. What is next is a piece of sheer beauty, as if all the previously unleashed violence has lead to some sort of thoughtful realization. It is pure peace, a revelation of the beauty of outer and inner space.

Electric Moon

And then it’s time for Swedish instrumental magicians Kungens Män, who offer the brooding Keeper Of The One Key. In its whopping 23 minutes the track shows all the beauty that can be found in the power of repetition. Carefully and meticulously like craftsmen bricklayers Kungens Män adds variation upon variation while they build their gigantic space ship on which they sail us through the sonic boom and far beyond. It feels just great to be in the presence of these master jammers for such a great stretch and be taken on their journey as they completely let go of time and space and just are in the moment for as long as a vinyl record side can last. Wonderful stuff.

Kungens Män

Finally there is the grand finale from Norway’s Kanaan. Their contribution is aptly named Beyond, and it takes its time to fully display what this powerful instrumental trio has on offer. The digital version was even extended to a mind blowing twenty-seven minutes (!), but of course a vinyl side can only hold so much music so the physical track is a bit shorter. All of this seems to say that Kanaan thinks you cannot really capture outer space within normal Earth time at all. First you have to free yourself from linear time, and only then you can understand what exploring the firmament on your instruments should really be about. Kanaan are builders. They are builders of beautiful atmosphere and spacious repetition. Only after very careful contemplation and very slow building do they unleash more and more of their might upon the listener, adding momentum with every repetitive swing. Finally when they have found their time, they add jazzy rhythmics and crazy distorted fuzz wails to shoot their rocket far up into space leaving us completely exhausted but still wanting more.

Kanaan

In its almost 90 minutes Elonmusk, Electric Moon, Kungens Män, and Kanaan have been given plenty of room to display their take on space travel. Together they have forged a memorable first volume of this International Space Station, of which I hope there will be plenty more to come. After all, space continues to inspire instrumental jam bands from all over this planet, and it will continue to do so until the end of time and beyond…

The Black Angels- Wilderness Of Mirrors (2022, Partisan Records)

The Black Angels return once again with a strong new display of their mesmerizing psychedelic power. The Wilderness Of Mirrors is the follow up of 2017’s Death Song, a direct nod to their personal heroes The Velvet Underground and a pretty dark and aggressive album for them. Now, five years later and a period of lots of inactiveness and being in lockdown behind them they sound more melancholic, more subdued, and at times downright distressed with the state of the world.

The album lifts off with heavy fuzz thrusters in Without A Trace, a sturdy, sun glasses wearing leather jacket rocker that these Texans are so damn good at. From the get go it is clear that The Black Angels are here to convey a message in the strongest way they possibly can. A big stylistic change would only divert from that message, and so they focus on their main strength: writing killer psychedelic rock songs that pay hommage to the 60s psych icons (Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors), while maintaining a firm footing in the now with killer hooks and production value.

And so they bring out their specter of doom and show us the Empires Falling:

Empires Falling, It’s history on repeat//Our nation’s bleeding, from street to bloody street…

All in a chorus so catchy you will sing along while dancing your feet bloody like there is no tomorrow. Which there won’t be, if we take the message of The Black Angels to heart. One we go then, with El Jardin, a song about the earth burning pleading with our current generation;

Oh leave a garden for our kids to play

Yet even when they let go of the weight of the world The Black Angels sound devastatingly heavy, take a love song like the mesmerizing Firefly, which features a breathtaking cinematic duet with drummer Stephanie Bailey. Or The River, which stylishly name checks Syd Barret, Roky Erickson, and Arthur Lee. Again proving that these guys know their history, and more importantly; that they know themselves.

For all its eloquence and beauty, it is desperation that wins the mood most of the time on The Wilderness Of Mirrors, on the title track Alex Maas seems to channel his inner Dark Star-era David Bowie, with a similar terminal urgency. Album closer Suffocation does not need to be explained either. The paradox of The Black Angels is that sound strong and invigorated in all of their sincere desperation. Of course there is no art without suffering, but it seems even more true for this artist and for this album at this time. And it is not their suffering alone, we also suffered this pandemic, we also see the looming specter of climate change and a capitalist world running towards an inevitable halt. The Wilderness Of Mirrors feels like a premature eulogy for that world, the madness and despair of a civilization in decline.

It makes for brilliant music though.

Review + Q&A: Opossum Sun Trail- Mojave/Klamath (2022, Echodelick Records)

We are out in the Mojave desert, a rocky and dry place with the characteristic Joshua Trees throwing their silhouettes on the barren grounds. Somewhere far out in that deserted area, away from the occasional tourist or drug weirdos, a trio of musicians is channeling their surroundings. Vibing on the pale desert floor, the stern rocks and the worn trees they play a music that could have only sprung here. This is Mojave, the first side of the new album by Opossum Sun Trail.

For you can hear the American-ness oozing out of Opossum Sun Trail, channeling Cash, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and more modern bands like Reverend Horton Heat or Woven Hand but there are a more ancient roots showing too. Somewhere in this weird hodgepodge of psychedelic rock ’n roll styles there is a basis of profound respect for the earth, its environment, and its previous peoples as well. Without any trouble they drop their twang-y noise making to explore the mystical side of the desert, brooding, still, as if they are listening to the night and emulating the sounds it makes.

The second part of the album is called Klamath, and it was recorded in the Klamath mountains of California. It is a forest-y area, extremely rugged, and lowly populated. OST’s music reflects this environment as well, at times pushing their jams to mountain wall proportions, and at other times bringing it down to serene mountain lake reflection. Singer Nola’s voice shines on this side, in a beautiful shamanic lament.

It is a beautiful, interesting, and versatile journey that we are asked to join by Opossum Sun Trail. The songs never linger too long, and before you know it the band is showing you a completely different vista, in that way they made me think of a wilderness guide showing me all the cool places of his surroundings. I am a lover of nature and hiking, but OST does not require it, you can perfectly enjoy the journey in your most comfortable chair without leaving the house, and let them show you the beauty of Mojave and Klamath.

I talked to Michael Dieter about his band, how the record came into being and the trio’s musical background. This is what he said:

Hi guys, how are you these days? And how have you been during the pandemic?

We are doing well! Nola and I spent a lot of time boondocking in the desert in our 1999 Ford Econoline during the early part of the pandemic, and then eventually moved up north to the woods. Our drummer John spent this time in Los Angeles.

Can you introduce yourselves? What are your musical backgrounds?

My name is Dieter, I’ve spent a lot of time playing pretty diverse types of music and instruments including jazz, country, afro-beat, funk, psych, salsa, etc… I think we all are very eclectic which is why our music is probably so all over the place haha. John Daren Thomas was a percussion performance major in school and has also played in a diverse variety of projects. Nola has a lot of experience doing eastern european and afro-cuban acapella music as well as singing jazz before jumping on keys for this project. 

What can you tell me about the beginning of Opossum Sun Trail? How did you find each other and decide on the music?

It started as a home recording project in 2009 or so and I’d just kinda layer instruments and play everything. I quickly started to incorporate other musicians. I don’t think a live show happened until 2015, and that was also the first year we released any music. it wasn’t until this last record where we are playing live as a band on the recorded music with minimal overdubs. 

It seems to me that the music is very much influenced by your cultural background and the environment, right? The Mojave desert? What can you tell me about that? 

The music has always been influenced by desert type of vibes and of course Ennio Morricone and his western soundtracks are a huge influence. We are really drawn to the sparseness of that environment and I think that comes through in the tunes. 

The abbreviation OST makes one think of Original Sound Track, was that intentional? What is your relation to movies and soundtracks?

That OST thing was not intentional, but I wish it was! It’s a nice coincidence since the music is written with a cinematic approach. A lot of pieces are short. Texture is often a focus. We’d be thrilled to work with someone making a film someday and provide a soundtrack. 

What can you tell me of the album, or are they albums? They are two separate entities, right?

They are two sides of one album, about 20 minutes each. There are recurring motifs, chord structures and tonalities for each side. I think they could stand on their own but end up together for the sake of a vinyl release. The first side was written in the vast Mojave desert of southern California and the second side was written in the twisted Klamath mountains of northern California. We tried to let the depth and extremes of the landscapes inform the music. I’m not sure how well that came through but that was our intent.

Recording in the Mojave desert

Can you tell me any stories from writing and recording the album? You guys out there in nature? It’s very different from any other recordings I reckon 🙂

When we started writing, Nola and I were out in the Mojave Preserve boondocking like I said. This was early covid after returning from a Baja, Mexico road trip. We would isolate for a few weeks until we ran out of food and then drive a hundred miles each way for more supplies. During this time we’d work on writing music for the Mojave side. 

The Klamath side was written in rural northern California, a drastically different landscape, much more dense and dark. We ended up rehearsing both sides with the aid of solar panels in Death Valley in the spring of 2021. We picked up John and practiced with him for a few days in LA before heading up to record with Tim Green in Grass Valley, CA. Our friend Anthony Taibi, a former bandmate of mine in White Manna, added a few tasteful samples throughout the recording as well. 

What are your future plans? And how about your other bands and projects?

I’m headed back to the Mojave desert pretty soon where I work seasonally as a soil scientist. Nola and I are looking to eventually get a cool spot to set up for recording, maybe get a garden going. We just finished a tour, but hope to get some more short runs going in the near future. Nola and I also have a pared-down twangy, cosmic Americana duo project that we do shows with called Landers Drifters. John’s always up to random music things like drumming and drum tech gigs for all sorts of different LA projects. Plans are pretty loose at the moment but we have our goals!

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Go camping! 

OST
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