Van Conner: Vocals, Guitar, Microkorg
Patrick Conner: Vocals, Lead Guitar
Adrian Makins: Bass, Vocals
Matt Vandenberghe: Drums, Percussion
Hammond Organ on Under Satan’s Will and Daylight in the Swamps by Brian Garfinkle.
Heavy Guitar on Battleship by Jack Endino.
Lead Vocal on Everyone Sun, Blood to Blood and Hands of Grace by Patrick Conner.
Co-Lead Vocal on Under Satan’s Will by Adrian Makins and Van Conner.
Lead Guitar on Under Satan’s Will by Van Conner.
Microkorg on Everyone Sun by Patrick Conner.
Recorded in Fall 2008 @ Soundhouse Studio - Seattle, WA.
Engineered and Produced by Jack Endino.
Mastered by Chis Goosman @ Baseline Audio Labs - Ann Arbor, MI.
Cover Design and Layout: James Bender of Thrill Industries
Photos: Steven Vest
Listening to the opening track of 'Dark Matter' from Valis and you are hit instantly by the 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' stripped down, slowed down vibe, and then Ozzy kicks in with the vocals (sorry it wasn't Ozzy, it was Van Conner) but the feel is so Sabbath.
That was 'Resurrection Sickness' - good opening. 'Blood On Blood' slows it down, more Masters Of Reality, before 'Under Satan's Will' - again slow and mellow and then back to 'Hole In The Sky/ Symptom Of The Universe' and Ozzy's back (not really!!). Again, this could be Sabbath but no, it's 'Grapevine Earthquake'.
There are times when this album threatens to break out and has quite a commercial/crossover appeal, as in 'Down Like Rain' - a cracking stoner ballad, but holds enough integrity not to go there. 'Hands Of Grace' has a cool Chili Peppers type groove to it. But what does this ultimately leave us with? At least a four star album. It'll appeal across the board but doesn't give me anything new; I think the Giant Brain has fried my nerve endings!
Buy it, enjoy it (you will). I'm off to curl up in a corner until the next Small Stone delivery!!!!
- Nev Brooks
VALIS is another band that deserve more public attention than they get. Formed in the basement of Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters back in 1996, VALIS began as a casual side project for both Van Conner (ex-Screaming Trees) and Peters along with Van's brother Patrick (Kitty Kitty) and Kurt Danielson (TAD). There were the usual changes in the lineup while the Conner brothers remained the core of the band. Since then, VALIS is getting better and better with each new album. 'Dark Matter' is now their third full-length for Small Stone Records, released in 2009, and has everything a good rock album can possibly offer. Dominated by a keen sense for strong melodies and above average riffs, 'Dark Matter' is inspiring and varied. It's less psychedelic than the previous release, but bands such as Pink Floyd or The Beatles have left their footprints in a few of the songs. 70's Hardrock is also a further source of influences for VALIS without increasingly metamorphasize to a 70's revival band. It's more like that the album reflects timeless rock elegance which does not deny the last two decades.
But actually, that's no surprise if you consider that guitarist/vocalist Van Conner formed Screaming Trees in 1985. The album kicks off with the mighty 'Resurrection Sickness' that contains a huge dose of Black Sabbath. Guitarist Patrick Conner takes over the lead vocals in 'Hands of Grace' and 'Everyone Sun'. Both songs mark the most emotional moments of the album and reveal the band's fondness for old blues and folk, but I had to think of Screaming Trees because on 'Everyone Sun' Patrick Conner sounds almost like Mark Lanegan. But that's not a bad thing. 'Grapevine Earthquake' could be the result of a merging of The Beatles and Hawkwind while 'Battleship' is just as heavy as its title. And in the end there's a hidden track that is a good as the rest of the album. The album has been engineered and produced by Jack Endino, who also appears as third guitarist on 'Battleship'. Additionally, the lyrics are printed in the booklet and it is not wrong to read them, though they are printed very small. Well, 'Dark Matter' is the best VALIS album so far and if you are new to this band, here is where you should start.
Being a fan of Valis's previous work might make me a little bias on their newest offering Dark Matter, but I must say it's a solid, balls out rocker that has the classic 70's rock feel to it. It gives any fan of Zeppelin, KISS, The Who or even Thin Lizzy thoughts of when they used to jump off their bed with a tennis racket, pretending to be a rock star. These guys know rock, and they know how to rock.
Valis started out in 1996 with Van Conner (Screaming Trees), Dan Peters (Mudhoney), Patrick Conner (Kitty Kitty), and Kurt Danielson (Tad) releasing their first recording, a split CD with Kitty Kitty on the Man's Ruin label. After going through a few line up changes and record labels they are still here and stronger than ever. Finding their home with Smallstone Records, they have released two albums with the Detroit based outfit. The first album, entitled Head Full of Pills, was a much anticipated album for me when it came out but I have to say it fell kind of flat. This is not the case with Dark Matter.
Dark Matter has been out for a couple weeks now, and I find myself listening to it over and over again- it's got that kind of playability to it and repeat listens reveal things I hadn't heard the previous time. It's got a thick and fuzzy guitar sound reminiscent of Mudhoney on steroids, lyrics that are about life, death, good vs. evil, sanity and insanity, and strange intros by what sounds like drunk people leaving messages on someone's answering machine. Standout tracks are "Under Satan's Will", the Soundgarden meets Pink Floyd vibe of "Hands of Grace", and the ode to alcohol "Daylight in the Swamps". The dual vocals on the acoustic track "Everyone Sun" gets me thinking about sitting around a campfire, and can almost smell the roasted marshmallows. The grand finale, "Battleship", might be my favorite track on the disc, with it's thundering drums and Sabbathinian guitar work. It's followed by a hidden track about a woman I think a lot of us have met at one time or another.
Valis really lit a fire with Dark Matter that wont burn out for a long time, giving Smallstone Records another great recording in their ever growing arsenal of awesome. I think this album will be one I will hear a lot my short time here on this world. I also think it would be a good one to hear on vinyl, so you can hear the snaps and pops to give it the true 70's vibe! So head over too their website.
- Adam Walsh
If you think Monster Magnet’s lost its mojo, let VALIS mess with your mind. The Seattle band (led by Van Conner, formerly of Screaming Trees) does the cosmic thunder boogie better than pretty much anybody these days. That said, though the band’s third album is named after a prominent astrophysical theory, the songs here seem tied less to galactic travel than more terrestrial and spiritual concerns. Daylight in the Swamps and Grapevine Earthquake dig into the mud, and biblical allusions drive a lot of the lyrics (Resurrection Sickness, Under Satan’s Will, Blood on Blood, Hands of Grace). But let’s face it: salvation/damnation metaphors ain’t why we listen to VALIS. We hearken to this band for its relentlessly grooving, melodically crunchy riff-rock, which has never been more potent than it is here. On top of that, Conner’s voice has gotten stronger, which is a good thing for the surprisingly pretty acoustic track Everyone Sun. I hesitate to say Dark Matter is VALIS’s best album so far, but the evidence sure seem to point in that direction.
- Michael Toland
Must admit – this one caught us off-guard. From the Iommi-like riff of opener “Resurrection Sickness” to the power surge of “Battleship” a new favorite was born. The Seattle-based four-piece might be on to something as they pull from Tool, Mudhoney and Tad with plenty of attention paid to the U-District’s second-hand record stores. Van Conner (Screaming Tress) made the band official ten years ago and now shares the glory with younger brother and guitarist Patrick Conner, bassist Adrian Makins and drummer Matt Vandenberghe. Noticeable is the band’s shift from space stoner rock to more melodic riff rock with plenty of catchy hooks for immediate impact. They still dig the fuzz, but frame it into polished nuggets of lasting freshness. Van does his best Ozzy on the southern-fried “Daylight In The Swamps” the stoned out mellowness of “Under Satan’s Will” and the bluesy pop romp “Down Like Rain”. Little brother Pat takes over vocal duties on the peyote dance “Blood On Blood”, the cosmic “Hands Of Grace” and Tom Waits-inspired acoustic “Everyone Sun” which become a duet of sorts. Producer Jack Endino even lends his ‘heavy guitar “ on the eleven-minute “Battleship”. Stretching out into the more commercial corners of the universe, doesn’t change the effectiveness of Dark Matter’s ability to remain firmly rooted in heavy rhythms while exploring the catchier side of songwriting.
- Todd K Smith
Although its title suggests some kind of celebration for the more mysterious nooks and crannies of the (un)known universe, 2008's entrancing Dark Matter may just be the least "spacy" album of Valis' career. Indeed, where previous discs often found vocalist/guitarist Van Conner (ex-Screaming Trees) and his cohorts embarking on interstellar travel like a secondary sister ship to supreme Space Lords Monster Magnet, Dark Matter sees their feet planted firmly on earthly soil, and the end product may just be the group's most diverse and immediate album to date. Now, don't fret none; it's not that Valis have abandoned their post-stoner rock songwriting comfort zone, but rather discovered a newfound desire to suck the marrow out of each and every song idea in order to cash out instant dividends, regardless of their stylistic provenance. Starting with the more familiar-sounding material, the head-nodding "Daylight in the Swamps" is classic rock defined, and heavier-handed numbers like "Resurrection Sickness," "Grapevine Earthquake, and "Battleship" boast colossal fuzz-rock riffs, as ominous and dangerously acidic as earthlings are bound to hear this year, Van's strained but effective Ozzy-esque cries sailing above them. But Valis will really open some eyes with more experimental tracks like the post-psych power pop of "Down Like Rain," the achingly mournful ballad "Hands of Grace," and the misleadingly named "Under Satan's Will," which, with its bubblegum synth lines draped over a surprisingly alternative rock-like descending riff, sounds like the Dandy Warhols on valium. And no, that's not an especially hoarse Mark Lanegan you hear singing on the quietly acoustic "Everyone Sun," but Van's baby brother Patrick Conner, who also takes lead vocals on the less memorable "Blood on Blood" and aforementioned "Hands of Grace." When it's all said and done, Dark Matter isn't necessarily perfect, but it's damn, damn good, and a more ideal starting point for new Valis fans to punch their tickets than any one of their prior releases.
- Eduardo Rivadavia
I’ve sat with the new VALIS record, Dark Matter (Small Stone) for a couple days now, ever since I posted the mp3 of opener “Resurrection Sickness” a little while ago, and the only two words I keep going back to for it are “catchy” and “stoned.” Guitarist/vocalist Van Conner, once bassist for Screaming Trees, has outdone himself in stripping away a lot of the spaced-out confusion that pervaded past Small Stone albums, 2004’s Head Full of Pills and the next year’s Champions of Magic, and where those albums had a hazy, heady, tripped out feel, Dark Matter is much closer to the ground — “closer” being the key word there.
Since each track on the album has a remarkably distinct personality, the best way to analyze Dark Matter seems to be one song at a time:
1. “Resurrection Sickness” - The consummate opener; a straightforward rocker with a killer early Sabbath vibe.
2. “Blood on Blood” - Wasn’t expecting the ’80s hard rock gang vocal chorus, but wasn’t necessarily put off by it either. Catchy, bluesy, stoner.
3. “Under Satan’s Will” - The howling guitar line in the chorus makes it a standout. Track is infectious in the vein of latter day The Atomic Bitchwax or what newer Monster Magnet could be.
4. “Grapevine Earthquake” - Another straight-up rocker, and well-placed at that. Cowbell and chugging verse riff do well leading into a chorus that’s more classic solo Ozzy than Sabbath.
5. “Down Like Rain” - A curious album centerpiece and easily the most commercial song on Dark Matter. Masters of Reality/Chris Goss-style vocals are delivered effectively. Hello mid-’90s prime time drama soundtrack.
6. “Hands of Grace” - Atmospheric and bluesy. Anyone remember Jerry Cantrell’s Degradation Trip? This could have been on there if it had about six more layers of vocals.
7. “Daylight in the Swamps” - “Swamps” is right. Song is full of muddy ’70s rock swagger. Might be the best riff on Dark Matter.
8. “Everyone Sun” - A Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees, sometimes Queens of the Stone Age, occasional solo brilliance, etc.) guest appearance does well to shake things up. Track is mostly acoustic (some synth swirls), Conner throws in some vocals to duet. Out of context it might not work, but the electric guitar solo is my favorite of the album. You’re either a sucker for Mark Lanegan or you’re not, and if you’re not, you’re wrong.
9. “Battleship” - Brings the good fuzz and closes the album the same way it opened: stoned and catchy. Takes a while to get going but is ultimately worth the trip. The hidden track about drug-seeking behavior among females in a backstage environment is a public service announcement to all.
Conner, together here with brother/guitarist/vocalist Patrick, bassist/vocalist Adrian Makins (formerly of Kitty Kitty, with whom VALIS debuted on a split in 1998 put out by Man’s Ruin), Wes Weresch (credited on their MySpace with “trip”) and drummer Sean Hollister (another ex-Screaming Trees member), has succeeded in making his band more straightforward but also keeping some of the psychedelic edge that made them known for something more than their pedigree in the first place. It’s not as dramatic a shift as undergone by Orange Goblin over their years together, but there are clearly changes afoot in the VALIS creative process. So far so good.
- H.P. Taskmaster