Hunter Ben Shepherd

Ben Shepherd_Elizabeth Raab 1This is music composed in the dusk of an outrageously successful career of music. It’s music that has seen much maturity; from an individual who has long needed or required some extra level of maturity. Soundgarden is no mystery to anybody who made it out of the 90’s in one piece. They were a Rock & Roll behemoth that devoured everything in its path. The path of destruction consumed its players and they went their separate ways. HBS (Hunter Benjamin Shepherd) took an illusive path, appearing as a guest musician here and there, contributing sporadically to fellow Grunge rocker Mark Lanegan’s albums, all while remaining in Seattle, Washington.

                In 2009 Shepherd began writing a solo record that would make a name for himself musically. In the summer of 2010 he completed recording. Friends, however, felt that they could help him flesh out the album more, for it was a very modest effort to begin with, being just acoustics and Shepherd’s voice. It’s an electric beast now with bass riffs and guitar licks that will wrap their tendrils around the mantle of your brain for days. This is moonlight music for straight up scotch sipping. It’s as if Ben Shepherd and Mark Lanegan have been bitten by the same musical bug that projects first class maturity and vision in music. Music really does get better with age! Be sure to check out In Deep Owl, Hunter Ben Shepherd’s new solo album released yesteryear!

Wooden Shjips and Plankton Wat Live Review

It’s a brisk chilly Portland night but no matter, we Psychedelic fanatics don’t dress for the weather! We dress for the band that’s imminently rocking the house. In this case, Plankton Wat and Wooden Shjips; one obscure, one quite renowned in the indie circuit.

IMG_8493Plankton Wat is a two piece group and the dynamics of their sound is quite astoundingly massive for a duo. Guitarist Dewey Mahood of Eternal Tapestry has some very obvious experience playing solo guitar and harvesting the guitar’s potential for all it’s worth. Each song of theirs boasted elaborately conducted, intimate wandering crescendos that eventually exploded across the room. Such well thought out instrumentation and the drummer was the guitar’s well placed and powerful punctuation. It was a noise junky’s delight. Some of their pieces were very ambient and easy going, others offered a Stoner Rock crunch. It was very operatic, sans the tenor.

Wooden-ShjipsI was truly delighted by Wooden Shjips and their Kraut Rock grooves, featuring basslines so sharp they could slice through solid bone, the lion’s roar of guitar echoed throughout, and the keyboarding; sharp and reminiscient of 60′s Garage. I grew envious of the silver haired rockers–wizards of sound. It just goes to show that true Rock & Roll maturity comes with age. I lost track of time and space as they played on. The timber walls of the Doug Fir seemed to vanish before me as I was cascaded by the projector lights. I was becoming one with their groove.

At one particular point, I broke free of the influence the music had over me to check in on my friend and elder psychedelic guru Malcolm, standing far back on the edge of the venue. Malcolm stood with eyes closed, letting the wall of sound wash over him like a baptism. Every single piece of music tickled him like a child. He truly is a man that knows and embraces shamelessly his passion; music and more specifically; Psychedelia. It was here, observing the exuberant smile on Malcolm’s face, that it became crystal clear to me: this music is vital because it takes the listener to another place entirely. It’s medicine for those desperate to experience everything all at once.

The Entrance Band – Face The Sun

entrance_guyGuy Blakeslee is a man of many faces and talents. Every time I see him perform he seems to have been cascaded by a new identity and the music is telling of that change in identity. While Blakeslee has a history of recording under a bluesy solo moniker of Entrance, then transitioning from that to a full band with the epic heavy death rattle Blues masterpiece Prayer of Death. Only after that did he change the name of the group to The Entrance Band. And with that, they released an eponymous debut album to celebrate the collective’s cohesion. With this release, there came a different dynamic in sound. It was as much set in Blues and Psychedelic Rock as it was an almost likely return to arena Rock of days old.

For this reason as well as The Entrance Band’s live performances that are quite simply matched by none living today, I have kept them on my radar for several years. They delight every human sense. Needless to say, I was enthralled when I discovered Face The Sun, their sophomore album. The Entrance Band relish in psychedelia here, swirling guitars, sumptuous wah-wahs, lyrical witchcraft. “Fine Flow” is a fantastic album opener, setting the stage with a bassline that will stick like a wad of gum to the back of your mind. “The Crave” is an especially appealing track, Blakeslee’s vocals are wanton and pained with delicious Blues harp interjections and the gentle addition of harpsichord in the track’s culmination. “No Needs” is The Entrance Band’s radio worthy track of the album, for it really shines with powerful vocal delivery, outstanding and diverse instrumentation (even featuring a flute driven climax). The real spectacle of this album is the diversity in styles they embrace. Borrowing instrumental techniques from various country-oriented genres such as Spain’s fingerpicking Flamenco and various earthy percussions. With each listen, a new layer of this album unravels and reveals itself to you. Pick it up and treat your mind to its elaborate caress, or for that matter, go for the gusto and pick up The Entrance Band’s three EP’s Dans La Tempete, Fine Flow EP, and Latitudes, all recently released and give them all a listen in succession. That will really take you on a spiritual ride!

There is no telling where The Entrance Band will take us next. If I may be so bold, they may very well prove to be the Psychedelic equivalent of this generation’s The Doors, even if only by name. Offering us entrances to alternate realities one album at a time.

Dead Skeletons

As a precursor, I’ve done a lot of writing about music that’s inspired me, but only really touched upon the one band that really set me in motion. This article is dedicated to them. The curative powers of music are very real and tangible, indeed! Music has always remained more than a hobby of mine. It determined my state of mind. So, what better medicine for terminal illness than music that skewers the very concept of death and the great beyond! When I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I was embroiled within a mix I was concocting on my laptop. It sat unfinished for a month after my tumor removal until I felt it necessary to exercise my creative finesse in order to keep my brain healthy and active. It was thus that I realized the very first track of this mix was ironically all too fitting of my unfortunate situation; “Dead Mantra” by The Dead Skeletons and the mantra repeated throughout was “He who fears death, cannot enjoy life!” How perfect it was. My fight song and nobody could really relish it in the same way that I did (well, unless they were terminally ill). I was given a prognosis by my head surgeon; a life expectancy of thirteen months but I was ill-phased by it. If anything, I felt empowered to do anything and everything I hadn’t felt within the realm of possibilities to do before. I returned to school and undertook every passion that I could reach out and grab. Writing, music, mixing; it was a very exciting time for me when it should have been a harrowing, traumatic time.
Dead+Skeletons+nonni+deadAnd to whom do I owe this unheard of courage? The Dead Skeletons. Or more to the point, Jon the band leader and brains thereof. He too, was diagnosed with a terminal illness over a decade ago but through strength, brain power, natural remedies, and the healing power of his music he overcame adversity! You see, Jon doesn’t subscribe to modern medicine and its infinitely corrupt establishment. He subscribes to life’s infinite potential and even more thrilling, the fact that we have no clue or no right to claim what happens in the afterlife. It’s the next big adventure and he paints a picture of this uncertainty with a vigorous artistic hand and a world-traveled ear for all the mystical musical sounds this great Earth has to offer.
From the very start of their otherworldly album “Dead Magick” we’re given an irresistibly driven beat, primal with it’s power and carnage and a raw depths-of-the-netherworld guitar that demands to be played at a very unrecommended level on your stereo system. And then the mantra, repeated in three separate languages for maximum effect over eight minutes. Pure sonic bliss! The album itself is divided into two parts, both equally as wild and adventurous in combining genres the world around. Psychedelia is in no part under appreciated, but it wraps the listener in a warm fleece of exotic influence and it becomes a theological treasure trove, with absolutely no shortage of inspiration from the occult. Buddhist mantras are given new life with sonic atmosphere in the likes of “Om Mani Peme Hung.”
The most inspiring aspect of The Dead Skeletons is that they are industrious. They don’t sit tight on an album release for four years. No, they are continually releasing new material that continues to push their sound to new limits. Ever present are their new releases on YouTube and if you’re lucky you can find their EP’s online for purchase. Their tactics are elusive though, it’s never clear what songs will make the cut of a full LP or an EP release, if any release at all. What is clear, however, is that Jon is a modern shaman. He is both wise and good willed. He wants nothing more than to provide the world with beauty and he has. Every waking day of my life is a tribute to the power of his music.

Start searching

Upon learning my fate in the claustrophobic confines of my doctor’s office, I was left feeling absolutely numb to the news that I would be going beneath the knife once again in three weeks time to remove the new shrouds of Glioblastoma Multiforme, the cancer I have come to know as my own. The rest of the day was spent drifting listlessly from one location to another in the company of friends, family, and my dear wife. I haven’t had any time to truly digest the news on my own, but now that my wife has left for work the taste of my doom is all the more palatable and grotesque. It’s so easy to forget your troubles in the company of others, but this is a battle that must be fought in mind, body, and spirit.
The only source of comfort I often find is with music, for it is an emotional coach and source of empowerment. This morning I have scoured my iPod for something that feels right–something that will slay the demons of uncertainty that lurk in my brain. This is where I have to thank Klemen and his infinitely epic online publication “It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine” for turning me onto innumerable artists I never would have had the good luck of stumbling upon otherwise. His publication is a wealth of mind altering musicianship and writers that are starved for music that you’ve likely never heard of.
My source of comfort this morning rests in the sonic nebula of Eye and their album appropriately titled Center of the Sun. It is a wholly epic journey for the mind to immerse itself in. The production quality demands headphones for a complete cranial experience. The title track is the true diamond of this four track delicacy, spanning nearly twenty minutes. It quakes with jolly God-like Rock and Roll perfection. The vocals are like proverbs spoken with a sense of majesty and utmost importance. As the guitar shakes your cranium up and down, left to right, we’re treated to the occasional secondary guitar solo. The songs are paced as though in orchestral movements. It’s a beautiful album, through and through. And it’s albums like this that help me through my day. They are wholly unexpected treats that remind me there’s still unexpected delights for me to discover out there. It’s confusing to me why others don’t dig deeper for their music. There is so much to discover out there, I can’t help but to rave about my finds just as the good folks at “It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine” do. If you want my advice, start searching. You may find your salvation.

Aqua Nebula Oscillator

Aqua-Nebula-OscillatorI’ve always been a glutton for the wild and fantastical whims of the occult. There’s something so enticing about the mythology behind it; epic and powerful demigods and the minions that heel to them with rituals that would cause the bourgeois to scoff and hurriedly scurry away with dread of the unknown forces on the brink. Even more fascinating is the art that the occult inspires in all forms. Especially the music that’s been inspired in years past. Blues and Jazz have a heavy hand in what has become a crazed movement in today’s culture. What with Dr. John and his voodoo ripened Gris Gris to Bo Diddley’s Hoodoo inspired “Who Do You Love?” The seventies saw numerous Hard Rock acts dabbling in witchcraft inspired lyrics and Satanism; Black Widow, Jacula, Amon Dull II, and Black Sabbath all challenged us to embrace the sinister realm. They introduced a darker shade to music as well as an enormous new weight in sound. Nothing was ever the same after. The occult brought wicked new life to our glorious Rock & Roll. The next stage in evolution has given us a strange breed of music indeed.
On a related side note, the entire concept of space and its infinite expanse is something that ignites fervor in even the most dour imaginations, so it only makes sense that occultists would be naturally attracted to its essence. It brings up a touchy subject for me though. I’ve seen the term Space Rock thrown around very frivolously toward bands that are just plain careless in their music; the design, execution, and production is haphazardly mashed together like a collage of paintballs; it’s all just plain unattractive and emotionally vacant. It begs these questions to be asked: What is Space Rock? What is its purpose? What are we supposed to feel when listening to it? Many call Hawkwind the undisputed champion and pioneer of Space Rock and, while they did create a specific sub-genre, I do believe the definition of Space Rock has been refined in a climate Hawkwind wasn’t designed to survive in. This is the real Space Rock. This is Occult Space Rock.
It’s like something taken out of space horror, nightmarish science fiction fantasy, or a murky haunted forest. Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s self-titled debut album is a nod to music remaining an art and cherished part of our imagination as much as it ever has been. The atmosphere created with the cortege of instruments and their strange other worldly mutterings is positively transcendental, creating an illusion of weightlessness in our minds reminiscent of Space as it actually exists. The images created in our minds by the extensive Shankar and Coltrane lineage improvisations and explosive runaway dronings are colorful and bursting with a fiery heat, while reminding us of Dr. John’s haunted jams. The lyrics are thick with wiccan mysticism and devil’s brew casting spells upon our ears. The surrealism is an experience unmatched. The many voices of the occult-fascinated band leader David Sphaèr’os are interdimensional. You won’t think of Cult Space Rock in the same way ever again after experiencing this collection of eleven voyages into otherworldly territory. These are songs that exist in a realm beyond anything we can see or touch. Sphaèr’os offers some insight on their writing process:

We do free form songwriting! I come with my song, give some direction, but we are jamming a lot inside the song, to keep it alive and keep from getting bored as hell!

The band was blowing minds in Paris, France for a solid decade; simply enjoying the psychedelic trip of the music with no pressure to please the masses (which should be the foremost goal of any said band) before 2008, when they managed to pull themselves together enough to record properly and with that came their eponymous debut, as well as their demise. In an unexpected and curious turn of events, the band split ways after the debut due to irreconcilable differences in the band’s direction. It’s not much of a surprise for a band that managed to hold it together for 12 years and only produce one officially tangible record. Most bands call it quits within a year or two, but this isn’t any casual run of the mill band. Sphaèr’os operates a very tightly knit musical ship. He forms an irresistible bond with his musicians. In the wake of his shattered band, he went on to reassign the same band with new players, however the dynamic of their sound was completely altered. With his new outfit, Sphaèr’os commenced immediately upon the album, Under The Moon of Aqua Nebula Oscillator, which was obviously a very transitional recording. Here, starry Psychedelic nights wed with nightmarish guitar fuzz and curiously beautiful compositions such as “Overmoon,” which seems to flirt with images of long moonlit walks.
In addition, in 2010 they released a seven track collection of exceptionally surrealistic tracks recorded during the band’s free roaming decade, titled Caves Recordings 1998 – 2008. These seven tracks will trip you over your own feet and send you spiraling down the rabbit hole of Sphaèr’os’ beautifully demoniacal vision. They are slightly muddy in production quality, but are absolutely brilliant examples of their creative Psychedelic whim and patience; they will surely stand as any psychedelic nut’s wet dream.
With their stateside album Third, they took an unexpected turn towards brash and rowdy, balls to the wall Cult-driven Space Rock. It’s a departure from their previous work based on the sheer velocity and ferocity of sound, but the essence of Doom is no less prevalent in the eerie wall-of-sound sonic juices flowing through the record. The essence that’s changed is the pacing of the music, it’s no longer elongated with uneasy leisure. They’ve adopted a new sense of speed and the guitar is far more prominent as a leading instrument, rather than sitar, keyboards, and the entourage of Sphaèr’os’ interdimensional voices. Sphaèr’os is a shaman and creative mastermind, there is no saying what masterworks lie dormant within his mind. His uniquely eccentric take on Rock and Roll comes through more than ever here.
None of this should beg you to question the band’s consistency because, and I can’t emphasize it enough, there is no band out there like Aqua Nebula Oscillator. Sure their releases have been variously unpredictable, but that doesn’t diffuse their explosive ingredients. This is why, with each and every release of theirs I will be sitting anxiously on pins and needles waiting to hear it for the first glorious time! And so I found myself anxiously awaiting their release of Spiritus Mundi because I felt in my gut it was to be their swan song for the world. Released stateside on November 5th, more psychedelic wiccan junkies would know of the band that is Aqua Nebula Oscillator than ever before!
The machine has come full circle! They have indeed outdone themselves with their fourth release, Spiritus Mundi. Here, everything they’ve accomplished thus far collides full on into their new selves and it creates a beautifully grotesque creature living in both past and present, shape shifting between their old and new aesthetics with each track. This is an awakening; a revelation! “Up to The Sky” epitomizes the central theme of the album; realizing our shortcomings and overcoming them with the power of the mind:

Why some people die of being alone?
Why must people die of being blind?
Why some people die of getting high?
Open up the eyes of your mind!

The next track moves forward with the same theme “Turn on Your Mind” with its anthemic chorus “Everything’s gonna be alright!” Sphaèr’os takes on the shade of some therianthropic beast in “Jungle Man,” the proclaimed single. It’s so positively wicked in its Voodoo inspired southern-fried attributes, it’s almost as if Dr. John was right there in the recording process. It’s a tune pressing us to question everything, and live our lives with mind over matter. The 13th Floor Elevators cover of “Rollercoaster” is a sinister treat. It serves as both a tribute, and a step through the next dimension of Psychedelia by pushing the bar further into the depths of the mind, yet it’s not pushed as far as say, the Spacemen 3 version which spans seventeen minutes of purely nauseating droning in a single chord.

The 13th floor elevator are one of my main influences, even if you think you can’t hear it that much in Aqua Nebula songs! To me they are the incarnation of the spirit of LSD and parallel dimensions, as much in HP Lovecraft! I love it, so raw, so aggressive and beautiful at the same time! Real poetry.

The album is populated with a much softer mellow groove than any of its immediate predecessors; a move Sphaèr’os was nervous about, but it resulted in some beautifully mind expanding pieces that balance out the hard rocking numbers with skilled precision.

Spiritus Mundi is one of the only Aqua Nebula albums that you can play on an acoustic guitar, that was my goal for this album! I was so fed up playing improv freak out tunes. My other goal was to sing with a proper voice, without going out of tune. Hahahah, really difficult, at least for me because I’m not a proper singer! Spiritus Mundi is not at all a “let it go” album, everything was composed before the studio, but we played it nearly for the first time together while recording.

All artists should take a cue from David Sphaèr’os and his wild ambition. He doesn’t just follow, he is a born leader in his crusade to make music that speaks from the very core of the earth and begs humans to see more than what is in front of them.

My music is more for human beings, telling them to please not live like the walking dead, that everything is possible in life. Don’t be miserable because we are creating our own lives. If we’re miserable it’s because we choose to be miserable and that is no good! Let’s enjoy life strongly, do totally what we want with no barriers, enjoy each moment strongly, even if we’re going to die tomorrow, who cares! Hahahah!

The music created is composed on his terms entirely. He is wise and seasoned in his knowledge of theology and paranormal philosophy; his knowledge is professed to a massive degree with his body of work. There is no trace of pretentiousness in the living organism that is Aqua Nebula Oscillator. If you listen to music for more reason than just a distraction from your drive to work and enjoy the darker side of music, it’s highly advised you check out their collection of work. Listen to the full album streaming here: http://3voor12.vpro.nl/luisterpaal/albums/Aqua-Nebula-Oscillator.html

Ruminatin’ on Creatin’

I was born to create. It’s my lot in life and it leaves me wondering sometimes what it is that I’m meant to create. I have such varied interests that weave through one another like a nightmarish spider’s web. Here I am at the dusk of my 28th year and I have one book, self published and ultimately a failed experiment under my belt. Where am I headed? I feel I have connections I am yet to make. I don’t want to become one of the so-called lower-middle class types, just scraping by with my typical American job and typical American house. I feel like there is more for me out there than that. I can’t deny the cards I’ve been dealt severely limit me but regardless, I’m better than this! I don’t know if my writing is the key or if my obsession with music will unlock doors for me.
The fact is, in the spring of this year, I declared I would publish a book and it took me just five months to fulfill that goal. True, the logistics of the book’s creation are laughable and sales are mediocre at best, but it’s an achievement that most can’t claim. I suppose I am being too hard on myself. This is just another miserable morning that I’m spending alone in this rotten stinking cafe ruminating over how hopeless shit seems when really, everything is going to be okay. I’ll just keep at what I enjoy until the end.