SLIFT, "ILION" (Sub Pop)

Well before the arrival of the internet, there was a widespread belief among American and British music fans that the French couldn't "rock." Shamefully, I used to think this, too. But then I realized that the number of French rock groups that actually received exposure in the US was infinitesimal. The problem wasn't musical, per se, as much it was a dearth of information. We were simply ignorant—and smug about it, to boot.

In a 2011 Stranger feature, I outlined some of France's better musical exports, some of whom rocked fiercely. An updated version of that piece would have to include Toulouse trio SLIFT, who recently signed to Sub Pop and are poised to drop their third studio album, ILION, on January 19. Their brutal space-rock set was a freaky highlight of 2023's Bumbershoot, raising expectations for this Sub Pop debut.  

Of the three ILION songs currently available, "Weaver's Weft" (the newest single, of which I'm not as enamored as I am with the other two) is the least rocking, though it's still a heroically muscular power ballad with surprisingly delicate passages. It almost comes off as a Gallic "Black Hole Sun," Soundgarden fans, though SLIFT cite Gnod and Part Chimp as inspirations. "Nimh" is turbulent, sun-touching rock with complicated beats by Canek Flores and doomy, prog-rock chord progressions by brothers Jean (guitar, vocals) and Rémi Fossat (bass), all topped by Jean's vengeful, growled vocals. 

"ILION" itself conjures visions of a spiraling ascension to the summit of a war-torn mountain. Relentlessly pugnacious and grandiosely savage, the song leaves you exhausted (yet exhilarated) by the time it hits a spacious, ominous lull six minutes in. Inevitably, SLIFT shatter the peace, cranking up the sound to 11 as they mimic the insane intensity heard at the climax of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." Yowza!

Here, I'd like to thank artists such as Weyse Blood and Beach House, whose abundant sales have enabled Sub Pop to take risks on unruly, noisy bastards like SLIFT. Bless you, prodigious unit-shifters.

Hound Dog Taylor's Hand, "Things That May Exist" (self-released)

One of the Northwest's premier jazz-rock groups, Seattle improv trio Hound Dog Taylor's Hand are poised to release their fourth studio album of freaky yet disciplined jams. Things That May Exist—originally titled BOOT, it's available digitally on January 12—finds guitarist Jeffery Taylor, contrabassist John Seman, and drummer Mark Ostrowski roiling in the pocket and scorching outside of it over six tracks of scathing fusion. 

With its clouds of strafing guitar noise and splenetic beats, "Polecat Blues" makes just about all other blues songs sound effete. That it reminds me of peak-era Butthole Surfers just adds to its luster. "Dream Sloth" is a relatively smooth offering for HDTH, its rhythm slyly funky, although Taylor's groaning guitar fibrillations keep things disorienting. "Amygdala Dance" is a swift, two-minute sprint for PhD-holding punks that's as lethal as it is linear. The series of spontaneous and thorny miniaturist gestures of "Check for Snakes" forms into a Dadaist collage that nods in the direction of krautrock legends Faust, before it locks into a mesmerizing psych-rock march. 

The album's first single, "Things That May Exist," begins with a deep, pensive Seman solo, then Taylor's plangent, Terje Rypdal-esque phrasings and Ostrowski's subtle, post-bop drum-and-cymbal work add to the intrigue. The piece gradually intensifies and spirals into a jazz-rock cauldron that would make Sonny Sharrock's neck hairs stand up. A false ending and a reiteration of the earlier canny chaos ensue, proving that HDTH know how to freak the hell out without relying on overly familiar tropes. Gasp at the telepathic, virtuosic skills at play here.