Big Business, Torche

Big Business is a band. They play heavy rock. On that, we can all agree. Things get tricky when you try to classify exactly where on the musical spectrum the dynamic duo’s racket falls. “I guess psychedelic heavy metal punk rock? I don’t know. People always say ‘sludge rock,’ which I always found to be lazy and kind of inaccurate," says drummer Coady Willis. "A lot of our songs are fast, and it’s not like we’re playing a half-assed Black Sabbath riff over and over again. That’s been the struggle of the band. We’re a band that doesn’t really fit into what everyone else is doing."

Willis comes from punk rockers The Murder City Devils. His co-conspirator, bassist/vocalist Jared Warren, spent time in noise rock weirdos Karp. Together, they formed Big Business in 2004. The LA-based outfit’s first three albums didn’t quite mesh with Hydra Head’s post-metal aesthetic, but their idiosyncrasies caught the attention of another iconoclastic outfit: The Melvins. They recorded three albums, an EP, and various songs between 2006 and 2016 with that iconic grunge/doom/experimental act, all while maintaining their own identity as Big Business. Along the way, they picked up guitarists Toshi Kasai and Scott Martin, but on 2016’s Command Your Weather, they returned to their core duo format. They remain in that lineup on their sixth full-length, The Beast You Are.

"It’s just better. We work faster, and we know what we’re both going for. It gives us more room to be weirder in certain aspects and try different things. It makes sense because that’s how we established ourselves in the beginning and how we learned to write songs together, it was just the two of us. Coming back to that lineup felt natural,” continues Willis. The two performed everything on the album, which was recorded between the early November and early December of 2018 at El Studio in San Francisco by Phil Becker (Pins of Light, Terry Gross). Willis, Warren, and Becker handled the mixing, with Carl Saff lending his mastering expertise to the final product. Once more, Warren has hacked up some construction paper for one of his unique cover art pieces.

With a new, dynamic demoing process leading to the creation of the most songs they’ve ever written for an album, The Beast You Are delivers 13 doses of uncategorizably heavy rock music. From the ominous death march of “The Moor You Know” to the soaring “Let Them Grind” to the delicate, ethereal “Under Everest,” Big Business continues to defy listener’s expectations. No matter the context of their music, however, one thing remains true: they are definitely still a band.

Torche

Torche, our favorite sludge pop geniuses, who by our reckoning should be HUGE. They may be heavy and loud and distorted, and feature members of Shitstorm and Floor and Dove, but the music they make as Torche is something else entirely. The guitars massive chugging and crunchy, the drums pounding and brutal, the bass thick and buzzy, the vocals a totally unique wail / croon, they sound a bit like the Foo Fighters, if the Foo Fighters were heavier and catchier and more punk rock.

Big guitars, a killer hook of a chorus, amazing harmonies, kick ass drumming, even some shredding leads, this band just keeps getting better and better, but also tighter and more polished, without ever sounding wussier or like sellouts.

Helms Alee’s music is exactly the sort of mutant, fantastic hybrid that used to only occasionally erupt out of small, isolated scenes, uninformed by trends of the day — instead inspired by the band’s own collective contributions. The Seattle trio’s unique amalgam of metal, art rock, pop and punk is charmingly reminiscent of the fertile creativity that groups once had before the Internet seemed to instruct bands to only copy one another. Helms Alee’s third album, Sleepwalking Sailors sounds like many styles combined into one, and none of it concerned with any notion other than creating vital, urgent and uniquely characteristic music.

Bassist/vocalist Dana James, drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen combine a vast array of ideas within a single song, while still sounding entirely cohesive. Their songs are undeniably heavy, but also freely roaming through icy post-punk and warm melodic haze at any given moment. Any given song can be pummeling one moment and then subtly shift into triply harmonies without the listener even realizing what has happened.

“The weird thing about it,” Verellen muses, “is that we’ve got three different people contributing lyrics, parts and melodies to each song. So, they end up being disjointed by our individual input. We spent 3-1/2 years writing the songs for this album, so it’s thematically all over the place.”

Sleepwalking Sailors was recorded with engineer Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Pelican, Chelsea Wolfe) in Seattle, with intentionally built-in limitations. “We recorded the album to tape in order to confine ourselves from ProTools refining every detail. We ended up with something that sounds really big, but also a bit more aggressive.” Helms Alee’s previous album Weatherhead was released in 2011 to much acclaim by their longtime label HydraHead just before it went under. Undaunted, and as a testament to the band’s strong fan base, Helms Alee originally crowdfunded Sleepwalking Sailors, eventually raising an impressive recording budget. Upon hearing Common’s early mixes, Sargent House quickly offered to bring the band onto their management roster and release the new album. Throughout the course of the album’s creation, the band’s independent aesthetic becomes clear: a dedication to truly representing themselves, regardless of trends and outside influence.

Album opener “Pleasure Center” kicks off with churning riffs and staccato drums that repeat and morph in a constant build that’s equal parts Gang Of Four as it is early Soundgarden. The slithering and perfectly meshed distorted rattle of James’ bass with Verellen’s climbing, chiming single notes on “Tumescence” lead off with Neurosis style heft, but soon give way to compelling minor-key vocal harmonies laid over the proceedings. Elsewhere, James’ and Matheson-Margullis’ even more pop-hook leaning vocal harmonies lend a transcendence to the proceedings. “Pinniped” pits near chamber-pop group vocal harmonies against screaming, wailing guitar blasts and thumping tom drum beats. Throughout the album, Helms Alee prove that their unique creative spark is its greatest asset in creating incisive and insightful music.

Sleepwalking Sailors will be released everywhere worldwide on LP, CD and download on February 11th, 2014 via Sargent House.

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