Aura Obelisk: seemingly clear case of the sophomore jinx. Had Octagrape planned this out better, they could have easily avoided it. Their semi-recent Major Mayor Maxion Marble EP was 32 minutes long and could have easily been album #2. Just four covers of Major Stars, Mayyors, Dymaxion, and Marble Sheep tunes, the MMMM ep was generally well received, and in no small part because, let’s face it…they didn’t have to write a single song. But sadly they slipped and billed it as an EP.
Meaning the proper follow-up to 2013’s Red UFO LP is now 2015’s floating and bloated Aura Obelisk. So your second album is a double LP? Four gaping sides, eighteen of your own new songs and a cover purportedly way up the list of Bands You Should Never Cover: Swell Maps “Vertical Slum”? Decisions, boys.
Apparently late-2014/early-2015 was supposed to be the hunker-down phase for the band following the near endless barrage of early years touring. Otis “O” Bartholomew (original bass player) bid them amicable adios last year mid-April after they showed very few real signs of getting their act together. Ely Moyal (drummer on this album as well as all other Octagrape releases to date, and Glen’s fellow early-90s Trumans Water alum) is now said to be leaving as well, kindly questioning the wisdom of an entire East/North East summer tour that originally formed itself around an opening slot for Complete (in Brooklyn this past August). Jinx smeared all over the surviving sophomores.
So who remains in grape-land, and what does Aura Obelisk have going for it? Glen Galloway and Jason Begin (songwriting/mixing/mangling brain-trust) are still mangling in full effect here, once again joined by the beautifully-skinned Alexander Dausch (who also pummeled the low end for all of Major Mayor EP). Although an infinitely famous new drummer is no doubt soon to be announced, Ely definitely bowed out strong with Aura. Production-wise, this record was split evenly between a quick trip up to Sacramento early 2015 (to funnel their nine most road-snug numbers through Chris Woodhouse’s amplified ears)…and a more deliberate several months in San Diego borrowing Ben Moore (in between his recent stints of live Drive Like Jehu documentation). And, one shining atypical fragment of a closer with Rafter Roberts.
The results are a blend of Octagrape’s hottish live tune-delivery-syndrome and curbed bursts of studio as (wounded) instrument. Desperate stabs at blending the songwriting un-writing lessons they appeared to learn on the covers EP with a forced step into no/new/neu-wave embarrassments. Jinxed sophomores managing to prune themselves into a number of unexpected shapes only to crush bits of woolly nectar out of each. And all of it delivered with the utmost urgent confidence that the rest of the listening universe needs to hear this as badly as they need to unburden themselves of it…? We’ll see. If they still remain in one piece after Complete gets through with them, they can crank all of our lucky stars.
–Glen Galloway, Octagrape
“Thankfully, this throat-blast of bent wind sludge is pretty hard to ignore…Octagrape has brought their A-game to the party, and this album will put as blissfully stupid a grin on yr face as any bongload, no matter how righteous.” – Byron Coley, Bull Tongue
“This San Diego combo exercise some blowtorch psychedelic punk in the spirit of Mainliner, Swell Maps, Major Stars and other faves of this program.” – Brian Turner, WFMU
“… it’s light-years more thrilling to actually hear those dots connected, especially by a band who happens to also share a taste for the interstellar. In covering all four bands for this EP, Octagrape puts their stamp on this mind-sharing music and shows how that music has put a stamp on them. Which is to say that sometimes Major Mayor Maxion Marble sounds like all five bands at once – especially in the most epiphany-hugging moments of the opener, a string-slobbering take on Major Stars’ ‘Syntoptikon’ that sounds like the history of right-on rock condensed into a dying sun.”
– Marc Masters, The Out Door, on Major Mayor Maxion Marble
“What you need to know now is that they have excellent taste, and have been paying attention for a long time, longer than most bands have been active. The noise stays on, takes up room and presses down like a flipflop wedged against your throat.” – Doug Mosurock, Still Single
“Octagrape have been continuing to put in some really excellent performances over the past few months here in town and it is genuinely hard to resist trotting out to catch them every month or so at the various far flung venues they frequent. Right now I think they are likely the best live band gigging regularly in the San Diego area…” – Little More Than A Big Crashing Beat
“My son & I are both big fans, he’s three and requests your record by name!” – John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats
“The highlight on the [Emotional Oil] EP, “Soviets” opens with a menacing riff, taken directly out of a mash-up of Pussy Galore/Howling Hex/Red Krayola sensibilities, yet altogether more coherent.” – Baba Upanishama, Bad Sounds Magazine
“Octagrape [is] a breath of fresh air in dusty garage.” – San Diego Reader
“Sebadoh pleases the crowd, while Octagrape threatens to upstage the vets.”
– Independent Clauses
“I had never seen them before, and I feel as though they turned me into an instant fan. Their high-energy brand of steady noise-rock was punctuated with their amazing guitar work.” – The Vinyl District
“Fans of scuzzy garage pysch-rock, look no further. Red UFO is distorted, wobbly and fuzzy (might have something to do with that time-tested analog stuff) but never overdoes it. These guys are poppy in just the right number of places (as in the Beach Boy-like harmonies in “Real Light”) but get downright nasty most of the time. Visions of Malkmus, Sonic Youth and Hot Snakes come to mind when these guys blast into songs like “Prepare to Qualify” and “Kelpo Kreeps.” – NBC7 San Diego, 13 of SD’s Best Albums of 2013