KURWS: THE WELL-READ HOOLIGANS

Translation of an article I did in Polish for the Polish culture magazine Dwutygodnik about the Wrocław based punk/jazz group Kurws.

Under the simple and vulgar name of Kurws (literally: Whors) hides one of the more intelligent and well-thought out band of the last few years.

Despite the Wrocław based band is often compared to jazz groups, they say that punk rock is more important to their work. The subversive, rebellious nature of the band can be found in the band name itself. Jakub Majchrzak, the bassist of the band, admits: “My assumption after the first rehearsals with Kurws was enhancing for my own use the definition of the word punk”. There’s a clear reason why a voice says in the beginning of “Tanz Mit Kommune I”: “Poor youngsters play punk rock and they’re happy with that”. Kurws have also collaborated with Maciej Salamon from the Gdańsk based punk unit Gówno (Polish for “shit”), with whom they have made a cassette entitled “2012” with as Pustostany.

After the 2011 debut release “A Hole in the Ghetto” (Polish title: “Dziura w getcie”), Kurws are back with a new release “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” (Polish: “Wszystko co stałe, rozpływa się w powietrzu”) via Gusstaff Records. It can be said that at the beginning of their career their image was tongue-in-cheek and quite humorous. Now it seems that they have gotten more serious and their music got a more concise sound. These suspicions are confirmed by Majchrzak: “There’s definitely less stupid fun, less pastiche and less funfair-like style juggling. There is, however, a whole caleidoscope - conscious or not - inspiration, the enjoyment of the stuff we play and I think it can be seen live. This new material unveiled its depressive potential, which makes me very happy, because I don’t see the band’s image as too “hooray” optimistic”.

An important information about the output of Kurws is the fact that the leave lots of hints to the educated and well-read listeners, as exemplified by the track titles. Many of them may sound funny or absurd at the first glance, but upon closer inspection one can find references to philosophers, famous figures, works of literature or historical facts. The title of the newest album is a quote from the “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx. Hubert Kostkiewicz, the bassist of the band, points out in the direction of the work of Marshall Berman under the same title. He also admits that he does not want to fully expain the title, because “he likes understatements”. However, as we will find out, the text of Berman’s book - describing different forms of modernist pursuit of destroying and rebuilding (from Goethe’s “Faust” to the oeuvre of New York architect Robert Moses) - is surprisingly coincident with the music of this Wrocław group.

There are many more references such as Berman’s on the album. Under the musical layer of energetic pieces, combining punk fury and the freedom of improvisation, there are references to the Italian marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (“Gramsci’s Nightmare” from the debut album) or the concepts of George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (new album’s opener “Weltgeist”). “Colossus on the Feet of Clay” refers to the term coined by the French writer Denis Diderot to describe Russia, taken from the Biblical Book of Daniel. “There Was no Wheel in the Inca Empire” refers to the curious fact of one of the biggest pre-Colombian civilization not knowing the invention of wheel. “Escape from Freedom” is an obvious nod to Erich Fromm. The band does not stay indifferent to current issues - dedicating one of the tracks on the previous album to Lech Wałęsa and making a composition about the Euro Zone on the new release. It can be said that each of titles has some sort of a second layer and the Kurws invite the listeners to explore the labyrinth not only of sounds, but also of ideas.

A certain toning down in the playful image of Kurws can be seen in the cover of “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” by Karolina Pietrzyk. The artwork is radically different from the parodistic cover of “A Hole in the Ghetto” by Janek Koza. On the cover the debut album we can see the fake, plastic-like pop star and… a pig. It works both as a funny contrast as well as an analogy (both are seen as products ready for consumption). Pietrzyk’s illustrations for the new album, depicting earthworks (and not digging of the grave, however the band members were aware of the comparison when choosing the picture) are sketchy, simple and seemingly made without much care and effort. Hubert Kostkiewicz explains the genesis of the cover: “The starting point when working on the new album’s cover was the renewal of the Nadodrze district a in Wrocław. Karolina Pietrzyk was exploring the area with a camera and a sketchbook and prepared an impressive documentation of endless renovations, excavations and metamorphoses. The material on the new album was recorded during many changes that we were experiencing. It was a very wide spectrum: from some prosaic changes to the awareness of an end of a certain period”. The metaphor, seen on the cover, refers not only to the process of recording of the second album and the changes in members’ personal lives, but also to the music itself. Anyone who has ever observed a construction process over a period of time, knows the feeling of chaos transforming into order - one gets the similar feeling when listenings to Kurws. With successive listens the seemingly mixed-up and messy music unveil the rigorous structure, showing the discipline in the band as well as the skill and the musical horizons of the band’s members.

The changes can be clearly heard on the new release: the sound of the band is still rowdy and rough, but there is more fluidity. Sometimes the rhythm and the melody can change several times over the course of one track, there is also more space for pure improvisation - however, Kurws consistently cut themselves off from jazz, often associated with improvised music. “If you treat jazz more as a philosophy, a pursuit of open forms, then I’m OK with this”, says Kostkiewicz, “But at the same time I really like the feeling of not knowing at all what is going to happen. Apart from that, to be honest, I don’t know much about jazz. This is how I imagine jazz”. Majchrzak too points out that the album is devoid of any “jazz-punk pretensions”. It is easiest to say that Kurws do not like to pigeonholed and labeled, like the case of often describing them as a noise rock band. “When it comes to noise rock and math rock, I don’t find myself in those traditions at all”, Jakub Majchrzak continues. “I don’t see any praise for mathematical beauty in our music - a few breaks in the 4/4 signature are not enough”. Kostkiewicz is also against the noise rock tag: “I was really tired and bored by the distortion, the amplification, the wall of sound. I was looking for a different dynamic. I was listening to a lot of garage, beat music and surf rock stuff from the mid 60’s, but also to Minutemen and Wire. Hell! I even listened passionately to Queens of the Stone Age and The Hives”.

I already wrote before about how Kurws tip their hat to the well-read, intelligent listeners. But that is not all. The members also treat their foreign listeners with special respect, translating the Polish titles of the tracks into English, Russian and even Spanish (with the American release of “A Hole in the Ghetto”). On the band’s Bandcamp page the English titles exist right next to the Polish originals in harmony. Apart from widening their fanbase with foreign language titles, the Kurws also have a rich history of touring across Europe. Jakub Majchrzak recalls: “the best reception is either in places where the people listen to a lot of music and have wide horizons or where the people are very open for new experiences and hungry for new music. There are two such extremes: Slovenia on one end and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other”. He remembers the great reception of the Swedish fans, especially in Stockholm, where they are welcomed with bigger enthusiasm every time they visit the Swedish capital. Maybe it is now time to translate the titles into Swedish?

Dahga Bloom - No Curtains

Combining stoner rock distortionado with psychedelic rock’s penchant for effect-laden sound, the Californian bunch Dahga Bloom's debut vinyl LP, originally released on beautiful blue vinyl (sold out already) have managed to create a high-energy cannabis-infused psychedelic like (kinda like smoking weed + snorting coke a moment later), where the infectious riffs get with spaced out synths and mandalalike song structures mix well together with cheap amplifier fuzz and blooze filth. Add an emotional vocalist in the vein of Hookworms of Thee Oh Sees and what you get is a slab of white rock psychedelic rock on the verge of a nervous breakdown with a serious turn towards some krautrocky/indie winning connection they’ve got going in their veins and brains and lungs and what else. Really solid trip-rock piece, recommended!

Kaseciarz - Motörcycle Rock And Roll

Two years after the release of their debut Surfin’ Małopolska, which took the Polish underground by the storm, the boys from the self proclaimed “low budget rock and roll band” Kaseciarz (which loosely translates to “cassette fan” or “cassette maniac”) took their guitars to another level and released a truly (kraut)rocking piece of motorik bliss filled with ugly fuzz and foot-stomping power. There’s definitely much charm in the band’s low budget, resulting in the uniquely lo-fi (maybe not as much lo-fi as the band’s debut album) sound filled with delayed vocals and infectious, wasted riffage. Kinda like a compressed, shortened version of Pharaoh Overlord. Highly recommended for all fans of garagey psych/krautrock!

Warm Climate - Pigeon Brides Weigh In

The digital version of the 2011 Stunned Records cassette release by Warm Climate, the freewheeling Los Angeles psych rock trio of Seth Kasselman on guitar, Caitlin C. Mitchell on drums and Jake White on bass. Taking cues from sunkissed, organ-driven flowery tunes of original 60’s lysergic assault and upsetting them by injecting a dose of anarchic, semi-improvisational strain of headrock, Red Krayola style. Although the style of Warm Climate can range from almost progressive structures to airy, poppy tunes and deep, convoluted guitar mandalas, their style is engaging and hypnotic, making one stick to this music playing around, breathing an air of proto-punk weirdness. Highly recommended!

Vehicle Blues - Letter Writer

Sometimes you just look at the cover of some loser rock EP before even listening to it on Bandcamp and you think: “I think this may have some promise, but I bet it will suck in the long run”? Well, I had it the same way, but then as I was sinking into the first track’s dreamy, smokey facade, I realized that it was something pretty cool, that the somewhat grand statement “This is one of the most solid 12 minutes recorded to tape" added to somebody other than me (turns out there are other people visiting Bandcamp as well, what a surprise!). The dirty, echoed riffage reminds me the similarly short and raw cassette by Storm Shelter released by Texan label Monofonus Press, although this one is even shorter - only 12 minutes long. Size matters, they say. This carries quite a lot in this small package. Good garagey rock.

Review: Psychocukier - Diamenty

(CD, Nowe Nagrania, 2013)

Is rock’n’roll dead? Every once and then some concerned music journalist will write a lengthy analytic piece of how the rock music idiom got gradually softened and/or replaced with a solo artist who needs little more than a laptop and an Internet connection to achieve success. But at the same time, every one and then a bunch of rock destroyers like Poland’s Psychocukier (translated as “Psychosugar”) will pop out, blow a cloud of smoke in everyone’s faces and say: “Hey, I’m still here, you motherfuckers!”

No, seriously, these guys rock. They don’t only rock, but they are rock. Their sound, their image, their everything - it’s just the epitome of the good ol’ “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. They’ve got booze, they’ve got smokes, they’ve got naked chicks rolling with them in beds (check out the photo session they did for Diamenty on the band’s website). They got the rock’n’rollin’ image down to a fuckin’ T, even with the fishnet wifebeaters and Holger Czukay moustaches. And while Diamenty is Psychocukier’s fourth full album, it might very well be also their best.

The first track on the album is usually the most important - this is where the listener begins their journey and where (when) they decide whether it’s worth to continue that journey - and the opening “Mgła” (“Fog”) couldn’t have been a better choice. It’s a churning, motorik blast of badassery, featuring hypnotic bassed accompanied with scorched, stoned guitar. It keeps the perfect groove for three minutes - it’s like everything you might ever expect from good psychedelic rock packed into a pill. It sets the mood perfectly and leaves yearning for more, more, more! The album is steeped in the sort of garage sleaziness that makes the greatest rockstars - there’s a lot of Velvet Underground spirit floating in the air, like opium smoke, with the ghost of Lou Reed watching everything - and approving of what he sees.

The lyrics themselves are equal parts humorous, dark, absurd and sexual - and in Polish, a refreshing (and patriotic) move when many Polish rock bands record in English. Like the lyrics to “Tonę w jeziorach” (“I’m drowning in lakes”), which features some serious “what the fuck did I just hear!?” moments - “I’m drowning in the lakes of your / I’m drowning in the lakes of your eyes / I’m drowning in the lakes of your / I’d like to fuck you your eyes” as an example. The smoky, groovy bass adds a sensual, slightly dangerous on the whole album while the guitar spews forth some of the crispiest and delightfully fuzzy sounds on all songs. Psychocukier are like a bunch of sailors who just came back from a long cruise and have stepped on land to raise hell and fuck bitches - a fact many reviewers pointed out, further supported not only by the rebellious, freewheeling sound, but also by marine-themed song titles, like “Dryfowanie” (“Drifting”), “Żeglarz” (“Sailor”), “Tajemnicza wyspa” (“Mysterious Island”), or “Laguna” (“Lagoon”). Diamenty touches on many moods and styles - there are some nuggets of melodic, indie rock songwriting (like the almost radio-friendly “Zło niesie wiatr”), and on the other side of the spectrum there is frenetic, overblown kraut-noise madness on “Ty”

Surprisingly, the band owes much of its crisp, energetic sound to Mikołaj “Noon” Bugajak, who achieved a legendary status with his hip-hop beats (and his work with such Polish hip-hop lumiaries as Pezet or Grammatik). Noon himself stated that Psychocukier were influential to his own work, so making an album together was just an extension of this influence. Despite coming from different scenes, the four gentlemen felt incredible chemistry and produced an exciting, simple yet ass-kicking album, recording with simple mics and a basic set-up, without resporting to overdubs, digital editing or any sort of polishing to make the sound pristine. Diamenty is a dirty, slightly kinky record that doesn’t give a fuck what other people think and simply has the time of its life. Looks like it’s time to say the truth: Psychocukier are the kings. And all hail the Kings.

The Oscillation - From Tomorrow

If you’ve been browsing Weed Temple lately and thought to yourself, “Gah, I’m so tired with all this weird experimental bullshit, throw some good ol’ psych rock already!”, then maybe it’s high (wink wink) time to listen to the newest album by the UK drug rockers The Oscillation. On From Tomorrow they give the listener everything one should expect from a nice, trippy record: deep, groovy basslines that carve their way into one’s brain, scorched and snarly guitar licks treated with more effects than you can count and old-school organ workouts. If you’re looking for more musical reference, it’s best to quote the band’s own Bandcamp page: “it is perhaps fitting to reference the musical otherness of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the absurdist punk attitude of The Stranglers (‘The Raven’ and ‘Men In Black’ eras), the garage dementia of Helios Creed with the odd snarl of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’”. Don’t know how about you, but I was sold at Syd Barrett. Get ready for some serious interstellar overdrive with this. Highly recommended!

"Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster" by garage psych unit Thee Oh Sees makes serial killing unhealthily fun with its insanely catchy, distorted riffs and pure, raw energy. Instead of being disturbed and shocked by the video, one gets drawn in by great cinematography and the “badass” factor of the music and wants to just throw everything away and go on a killing spree, like the main character. Oh, and there’s one hell of a twist at the end. Grab their album Floating Coffin on Castle Face Records if you haven’t yet.

Al Lover - Distorted Reverberations: Psychedelic Reinterpretations of Contemporary Rock ‘n Roll

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Let’s say that, being a reader of Weed Temple, you love psychedelic and garage rock - the fuzzy, lo-fi, scuzzy kind that burns holes in your skull and leaves you wanting more. And let’s say that you also like hip-hop. The instrumental, stoned beats that make you want to get into your car and do some astro travellin’ through your neighborhood.

Now, let’s say there’s a San Francisco producer Al Lover who Last.fm brilliantly describes as “equal parts 13th Floor Elevators and DJ Shadow”, and you’re pretty much ready what to expect. A fucking psychedelic hydrogen bomb applied directly to your brain, that’s what. Boombastic beats constructed from some of the hottest, fuzziest riffs and guitar solos taken from songs from various rock bands around the US, including Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. Come on and visit the man’s website. Browse his entire Bandcamp catalog and strictly haze for days. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

Distorted Reverberations: Psychedelic Reinterpretations of Contemporary Rock ‘n Roll (download)

Trupa Trupa - LP

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A bite of organ-driven garage rock goodness from Gdańsk, Poland based group Trupa Trupa who deliver some catchy, yet hi-energy songs. LP is their debut studio album from 2011 (following an 2010 EP, available for free download), where they show penchant for all-killer no-filler rock’n’roll anthems with a bit lo-fi infatuation. Available for “name your price” option.

If you enjoy LP, make sure to check out their fresh new album mysteriously entitled ++, on which they further refine their sound to make it more atmospheric and hi-fi.

Mystic Braves - Mystic Braves

Los Angeles based quartet Mystic Braves dig into the sundazed, Technicolor legacy of their hometown’s once flowering psychedelic pop scene (Love, for instance) and bring out a set of 60’s-influenced garage killers with surfy guitar licks and a head nod inducing melodies. Each song is like a Polaroid from the past, somewhat worn out, yet still awe-inspiring. For those who are into gentler side of psychedelic rock.

Mavo - Mavo 7”

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Some truely enlightened garage psychedelic rock from Montreal, Canada. Good vibes all over this little debut 7 inch, which you can also buy from them in an elegant packaging. Three killers, no fillers, filled with  60’s-esque vocal techniques, but with a more modern, slightly ambient influenced added. Track 2 is pure yacht rock all over the hull. Track three is optimistic jangle pop with a penchant for distant, ghostly guitar feedback. Good summer music, people. Grab it.

Lou Breed - Stoned Out Two: Morning of the Way to Love

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One look at the cover and you know for sure that summer has arrived. Born and raised under the scorching sun of Los Angeles, “Stoned Out Two” collects the hazy garage rock ballads and psychedelic pop vignettes into a perfect, vintage-tinged blend that melts rock and electronic music into a poolside nirvana. Catchy riffs meet lost-and-found samples and loops, complimented with the not entirely real vocals and voila, there you go, a great listening for the upcoming heatwave. Might take a few listens to get into it, but once it clicks, it won’t leave your  head. Recommended.

If you’re enjoying this, buy the tape from Icecapades.

Mediafire Mirror

The Glimmer Blinkken - Bernard Ruix Wedding Album

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This heavy, hard hitting piece of psychedelic nuggetry is best described as “stonerdelic” in the most classic, lo-fi sense of the word. This free rock sextet from Dubuque, Iowa featuring the folk weirdo Bobb Bucko Jr among the members takes a joyous, circus-like and a rather tongue-in-cheek ride through the history of psychedelic rock, setting shorter, more anthemic pieces against Sunburned Hand of the Man style weirdness and krautrock jams. Delicious homegrown lysergic bliss from the American midwest. Available on cassette from Ruix Records.

Crown Larks - Catalytics Conversion

It’s time to celebrate our 1000th follower with a debut album by a freewheeling Chicagoan free rock team Crown Larks. Offering a healthy dosage of calm, melodic psychedelic rock with a slightly experimental edge, this album is an answer to the growing need for string-based blissfullness after a winter of electronic, synthesized drones and ambient soundscapes. Under a modest cover hides an explosion of Technicolor colors. Kinda reminds me of an LSD-soaked version of Polish band Myslovitz.