JOVM celebrates what would have been Sam Cooke’s 90th birthday.
JOVM belatedly celebrates what would have been Jam Master Jay’s 56th birthday.
JOVM celebrates Dolly Parton’s 75th birthday.
JOVM celebrates LL Cool J’s 53rd birthday — belatedly.
Levitation Festival (formerly known as Austin Psych Fest) can trace its beginnings to a simple idea devised by the members of The Black Angels in the back of a tour van in 2007 — let’s invite all of our favorite bands and all of our friends for our version of a music festival.
The inaugural Austin Psych Fest was in March 2008 and by popular demand, the festival expanded to a three day event the following year. The festival quickly became an international destination for psych rock fans with lineups featuring up-and-comers, cult favorites, legendary and influential acts and a headlining set from The Black Angels. Renamed Levitation in honor of Austin psych rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators, the festival has sparked an new, international psych rock movement while inspiring the creation of several similar events across the globe, including Levitation Festival events in Chicago, Vancouver, France and a SXSW showcase, as well as other special events in Europe and Latin America.
Late last year, Levitation Festival’s record label, The Reverberation Appreciation Society announced the launch of a new live album series, Live at LEVITATION. Comprised of material played and recorded throughout the festival’s decade-plus history, the live album series specifically captures and documents key artists in the contemporary psych rock scene. Of course, many of these moments were also important moments of Austin’s live music scene.
The live series’ first album Kikagaku Moyo — Live at LEVITATION featured two different Kikagaku Moyo sets — their 2014 Levitation Festival set, which was one of the Japanese psych rock act’s first Stateside shows and their return to Levitation back in 2019, during a sold-out Stateside tour. Live at LEVITATION’s second album The Black Angels — Live at LEVITATION features the festival’s founders The Black Angels. Comprised of material recorded at Austin Psych Fest 2010, 2011 and 2012, the album captures a rare glimpse of the festival’s early days — and for Black Angels fans, like myself, it also features six songs from their first two albums, Passover and Directions to See a Ghost.
The Black Angels — Live at LEVITATION is slated for a March 26, 2021 digital and vinyl release through The Reverberation Society, and as The Black Angels’ Christian Bland explains in press notes, “Since the beginning The Black Angels were meant to be heard live. This record captures the rumble of the drums and amps, and the very essence of the way it should sound. Now future generations and new listeners can now hear how these songs were meant to be heard.”
The album’s first single is hypnotic and menacing live version of Passover single “Manipulation” that features a mesmerizing guest spot from Elephant Stone’s bassist, sitarist and frontman Rishi Dihr. The accompanying live footage was filmed at Austin’s Seaholm Power Plant.
JOVM celebrates Dave Grohl’s 52nd birthday.
VAR is an acclaimed Reykjavik-based post-rock collective that was founded in 2013 as the solo recording project of its founding member and creative mastermind Júliús Óttar Björgvinsson(vocals, guitar and piano). But shortly after the project’s founding, Björgvinsson felt as though his vision couldn’t be fully realized without additional help. So, he recruited those, who were the closest to him — his wife Myrra Rós (synths, vocals), his brother Egil Björgvinsson (bass) and his friends Arnór Jónasson (guitar) and Adrni Freyr Þorgeirsson (drums). That lineup wrote and recorded the Vetur EP — and in the subsequent years after its release, the band managed to built up a fiercely loyal fanbase through relentless touring.
The band went through a series of lineup changes after the release of Vetur EP: Ròs left the band as a result of competing professional and personal responsibilities and Sigurður Ingi Einarsson (drums) replaced Freyr. A smaller lineup necessitated a reimagining and reworking of the sound, which resulted in last year’s The Never Ending Year, arguably the most ambitious album of their growing catalog.
Much like countless acts across the world, the pandemic put the acclaimed Icelandic act’s tour plans on hold indefinitely. “After releasing an album and having no chance to play it live, we felt like we had to do something to give people at least a little taste of us playing these songs live,” VAR’s Júlíus Óttar Björgvinsson (vocals/guitar/keys) says in press notes. “VAR has always been about playing live and we always give everything we have to make the tension between us and the audience both peaceful and powerful. But since we could not play it live for people, we decided to make these live videos of us playing the songs at the organ workshop where we practice. We got our producer Eiður to do the sound for the videos and when he sent us the audio files Arnór brought that idea of releasing a live EP, because people had been asking us to do so. We were happy with the sound Eiður got from the session and how far it is from how the album sounds. It’s powerful, it’s raw and it’s honest. And that is VAR.”
The Icelandic band’s latest effort, the soon-to-be released four song Live at Orgelsmidjan EP, was recorded at the their practice space, which also serves was their homeland’s only pipe organ workshop. The EP’s latest single “Where To Find You” further establishes their sound, which — to my ears, at least — is a seamless synthesis of atmospheric shoegaze, classic alt rock and arena rock paired with heart-on-sleeve lyricism. But interestingly, because of its unfussy, you-are-there production, the song is imbued with the raw and urgent power of a live performance. And as a result, it gives the material an added emotional punch.
With the release of their first three albums, the Toronto-based punk trio and JOVM mainstays METZ developed a reputation for thriving on an abrasive restlessness. However, before they set to work on their fourth and latest album, last year’s Atlas Vending, the Canadian punk rockers — Alex Edkins (guitar, vocals). Chris Slorach (bass) and Hayden Menzies (drums) — set a goal for themselves and the album: they intended to make a much more patient and honest album, an album that invited repeated listens rather than a few exhilarating, most-pit friendly bludgeonings.
Co-produced by Uniform’s Ben Greenberg and mastered by Seth Manchester at Pawtucket’s Machines with Magnets, Atlas Vending sees the band attempting to craft music for the long haul, and with the hopes that their work could serve as a constant, as they — and of course, the listener — navigated through life’s trails and tribulations. The end result is an album’s worth of material that retains the massive sound that has won them attention and hearts across the world, but while arguably being among their most articulate, earnest and dynamic of their catalog and careers.
Thematically, the album covers disparate yet very adult themes: paternity, crushing social anxiety, addiction, isolation, media-induced paranoia and the restless urge to just say “Fuck this!” and leave it all behind. Interestingly enough, much like its immediate predecessor, Atlas Vending offers a snapshot of the modern condition as the band sees it; but unlike any of their previously released work, the album’s 10 songs were specifically written to form a musical and narrative arc with the album’s songs and sequencing following a cradle-to-grave trajectory.
As a result of the album’s cradle-to-grave narrative arc, the album’s material runs through a gamut of moods and emotional states, starting off with the most rudimentary and simplistic sensations of childhood, all the way to the increasingly nuanced and turbulent peaks and valleys of adulthood. There’s also a bit of subtext to the proceedings: getting older in an industry seemingly suspended in perpetual youth. “Change is inevitable if you’re lucky,” METZ’s Alex Eadkins says of the band’s fourth album Atlas Vending. “Our goal is to remain in flux, to grow in a natural and gradual way. We’ve always been wary to not overthink or intellectualize the music we love but also not satisfied until we’ve accomplished something that pushes us forward.”
Over the course of last year, I wrote about six off the album’s released singles:
Album closing track “A Boat to Drown In,” which may be the most expansive and oceanic tracks of their entire catalog.
“Hail Taxi,” an explosive and deceptively prototypical METZ track that’s centered a narrator, who desperately attempts to reconcile who they once were with what they’ve become.
“Blind Industrial Park,” a rapturous and euphoric ripper that’s an ode to the naivete of youth and the blissful freedom of being unburdened by the world surrounding you.
“Parasite,” a frenetic and pummeling ripper that they filmed at The Opera House in Toronto.
“Pulse,” a furious roar, full of the anxious and uncertain dread that was familiar to daily life during the Trump Administration.
“Framed by the Comet’s Tail,” Atlas Vending’s most punk-like song, centered around the bitter recrimination and heartache of betrayal and the desperate desire to just say “Fuck all of this!” and start over.
The JOVM mainstays closed out 2020 with an explosive live session for KEXP that they recorded at Palace Sound, which features a handful of the album’s singles performed live. KEXP recently released the video — and it makes me miss live shows immensely. I suspect it’ll make you miss live shows, too.
JOVM celebrates The Doors’ Robby Krieger’s 75th birthday.
JOVM celebrates what would have been David Bowie’s 74th birthday.