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Viking's Choice: Skull-Melting Feedback, Free-Jazz Psych, Experimental Lute

Goblinsmoker's grubby artwork really just sets the vibe, you know?
Adam C Design
Courtesy of the artist
Goblinsmoker's grubby artwork really just sets the vibe, you know?

Gonna keep it 100: I absolutely judge an album by its cover. Does it have a sick wizard? A most-pleasing font and color combination? An impossible and-or nightmarish fantasia?

When I scroll through Bandcamp, on the hunt for hidden corners of punk, metal and outer sounds, the first sense is always sight. Maybe a killer band name will catch my eye, or a trusted record label, but amid a bloated glut of music, image is queen.

Take, for instance, Goblinsmoker's A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze. You and I both know what's going on here: With a name like Goblinsmoker, this could only be a stoner-metal band. The riffs? Why, they are slow and dank. The distortion? Scattered, smothered and covered to oblivion. The vocals? Scraped from the gutter. But it's Adam C Design's grubby illustration, featuring a stoned and possessed Toad King surrounded by dead toad soldiers and goblin sentry, that instantly communicates, "This is loud; this is silly; this feedback will melt your skull."

ESP Mayhem's Bloodsportswear hits several sweet spots at once. The logos for ESPN and black-metal band Mayhem are blatantly, brilliantly ripped off in a mashed-up middle finger to designers everywhere. But then there's the black-and-white mecha warrior, illustrated by Robert Parish — a mad scientist's fever dream of organs, bones and artillery. Set to ESP Mayhem's triple-synth, no-guitar grindcore, this hyper-industrial abomination was sent from the future to kick our asses.

You can find this week's picks below, plus my updated playlist onSpotify andApple Music. (Note: Some of these tracks can only be found on Bandcamp.)

Sunwatchers, "Sunwatchers vs. Tooth Decay"

With Oh Yeah?, Sunwatchers becomes heir apparent to the psychedelic throne of Comets on Fire. New York's wiliest pick up heady strains from free jazz, punk and minimalism, but the groovy propulsion, the reckless shred and the introduction, deviation and return to melody have truly cohered into one of psych-rock's greatest bands.

Lucy Gooch, "My Lights Kiss Your Thoughts Every Moment"

The moment is short, but Lucy Gooch's music makes it last forever. Rushing layers ambient synths and vocal melodies in a paradox of weightless textures freighted with emotion.

Folian, "Unwanted"

Jesu, 40 Watt Sun and Kayo Dot fans should just hit play already. Portland's Folian knows how to make a bummer sound extremely pretty, with spacious atmospheres and fuzzy guitar tones; adventurous songwriting in search of deeper meaning.

Sonja, "Nylon Nights"

Behold, the glam-y, teased-hair heavy metal revival: Thy name is Sonja. This came out in 2018, but I only just discovered these two songs and can't stop listening to the hook-filled, Tokyo Blade-worshipping night anthems — not only about desire, but survival. More, please.

Jozef van Wissem, "Vox Populi, Vox Dei (feat. Jarboe)"

Ex Mortis, the umpteenth album by the experimental lute player and composer, excavates The Book of Gostlye Grace, an obscure text written by German nuns in 1290. Jarboe, an incredible vocal presence wherever she deems worthy, turns this meditative slow burn into an incantation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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