8 Nov 2017

This Month's Active Listener Sampler

Hi Team. We're back with the second in our revived and revitalised sampler series. This month we've got exclusives and premieres from Active Listener favourites Balduin, Psychic Lemon and The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, as well as some new faces.

Here's the full tracklisting.

1. Garden Gate - Saturn (version) 03:15 2. Balduin - Norman Stanley James St. Clair 02:40 3. Pansies - Feels Like Yesterday 06:49 4. The 1910 Chainsaw Company - Good Friend 03:56 5. Zombie Girlfriend - Echo Echo 01:38 6. The Striped Bananas - Swirling Colors (In My Mind) 03:12 7. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - By The Light Of The Moon 02:59 8. Psychic Lemon - Interstellar Fuzz Star 09:53 9. Hermitess - Black Lake 03:21 10. Flange Circus - Kwak 03:07 11. Void Watcher - Succour 07:05 12. Peyote Coyote - Mirrors 04:43 13. The Soap Opera - Eggs To Hatch and Cats To Kill 01:28 14. Blue Hole - Strong Current 04:16 15. Sleepyard Feat. Judy Dyble - Rainy Day Vibration (Woodland Version) 03:08 16. Kosmo-0 - Black Lodge 13:49

Its a $1 or donation download with all funds raised helping to cover our running costs.

Get it here:

7 Nov 2017

In Gowan Ring - B’ee’s Pent Pouch

Reviewed by Grey Malkin

In Gowan Ring’s main man and wandering troubadour B'ee, whose artistic vision has borne countless masterful psych folk releases over the last two decades, returns with the curious and intriguing new release ‘Bee’s Pent Pouch’. Describing In Gowan Ring’s music as ‘symbolist folk; music within a magico-poetic-folk tradition utilizing acoustic instruments, voice, and poetry to convey transcendent experience and to engage the listener in mythic realities’, B’ee ably delivers here on both this promise and description. There is also a curious history to this release, recorded back in 2012 in a specially constructed five sided tent/ dwelling behind a 16th century French chateau. It was within this structure that B’ee determined to record a five sided sound project. The album, initially given to those who helped fund the project, now sees the light of day in a variety of five sided packaging options, from vinyl to a pouch or box encased CD.

'Dream' opens the album with a drifting sitar drone, a steady hand drum and an unsettling, otherworldly chant that layers and builds as if a choir of ghosts, ever increasing in number. It is both tranquil and eerie, the sound of darkness falling and of dusk; magical yet ominous. A fitting beginning, it is followed by an able cover of Donovan's 'Wandering Aengus', solitary voices and acoustic guitar proving a powerfully bare setting for Yeats’s lyrical and evocative words. Nick Drake's little known outtake 'Blossom Friend' is another acoustic treasure, a delicate and yearning slice of fragile, bucolic beauty. B'ee is past master of interpretation with such songs as these and he doesn't disappoint here; indeed he never over-elaborates but rather inhabits the song in its stark and simple sadness.

Next, ‘The Open Door Of The Grand Invitation' uses B'ee's warm and emotive vocals to significant effect both as a lead and also as a multi-layered choral backing, recollecting such seminal acid folk artists as Perry Leopold (especially his ‘Christian Lucifer’ period) or Simon Finn. 'The Half Lumined Path' starts with the sound of leaves underfoot and distant crow song before percussion and subtle drones enter, creating both a nature ritual and an effective field recording. A re-reading of the stunning 'Leaf Patches On Sidewalks’ (from B'ees 2005 'Beirth' album) is most welcome and absorbs a new potency and poignancy in its stripped back form. 'The Moon Is Shining On My Guitar' offers a lament from B'ees tormented troubadour soul, a melancholy sliver of wyrd folk magic where such is the intimacy that it almost feels that B'ee is in the room with you, the sound of him taking off his guitar at the end only adding to this sense of connection. The album closes with a reprise of the opening ‘Dream’, the drone darker, stronger and more urgent as the circling chants float in and out of consciousness.

A true gemstone of an album, this is B'ee at his most minimal and nakedly genuine; recorded with mostly just his voice and guitar it only emphasises his mastery of his muse and musick. One then for sunsets on hilltops, dusk by rivers or sunrises over woodland; this is music that connects with something innate in both the heart and with nature.

6 Nov 2017

Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968 - 1976

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While it's primarily thought of these days as a folk label, an argument can be made that Transatlantic Records was one of the first and most influential underground rock labels too. Anyone wanting to present this argument would do well to have a copy of this new three CD box set on hand to silence any naysayers.

Nat Joseph originally started Transatlantic to license American jazz records on the Prestige and Riverside labels for UK release (hence the name Transatlantic I guess?). They then moved into sex education records before Joseph signed Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and started releasing ther records that they're remembered for today. Joseph continued to pursue other music that interested him however, releasing the Purple Gang's popular jug band psych hit "Granny Takes a Trip" in 1967, and within a few years he had an impressive range of underground acts on his roster.

"Let The Electric Children Play: The Underground Story of Transatlantic Records 1968-1976" focuses on these acts, with some crossover to some of his folk acts' more experimental material. There's some busy proto-prog from the ass-end of the sixties from Jody Grind and Circus as well as the Deviants representing the Ladbrook Grove scene, but things get really interesting amidst the offerings from the start of the next decade. The menacing prog-folk of Jan Dukes De Grey is represented by the title track from their second opus "Mice & Rats In The Loft" while highly rated prog rockers Marsupilami demonstrate their versatility on "Prelude to the Arena" from their excellent "Arena" LP. And while we're focusing on the progressive side of things, there are two excellent cuts each from CMU and Skin Alley. Elsewhere, there are very interesting experimental folk tracks from Mr Fox, whose "Mendle" is deeply sinister, as well as former Mr Fox vocalist Carolanne Pegg whose Transatlantic album "A Witch's Guide to the Underground" is a must hear.

There was more to Transatlantic's underground roll call than prog and folk though; there's McCartneyish pop from a pre-Stealer's Wheel Gerry Rafferty, hard rock from Stray, even a touch of glam from Metro, whose "Criminal World" (featured here) made enough of an impression on David Bowie for him to cover it on his zillion selling "Let's Dance" album.

Just a folk label eh?

It's a bargain and can be had here.

3 Nov 2017

Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Review and interview by Tom Sandford

Originally published November 2015, reshared to draw attention to Sugarbush's brand new vinyl reissue, replacing Sunstone's out of print first issue.

The Byrds’ wingspan of influence stretched across three full decades and flew through the sounds made by some of the most important bands in the history of rock, including Big Star, the Jayhawks, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Hüsker Dü, Echo and the Bunnymen and countless others. For a time it was de rigueur – if not downright cliché – to see the Byrds name-checked in almost any band’s bio. They were part of the holy trinity of influential B-named bands: Beatles, Beach Boys, and Byrds.

But to everything there is a season, and an apparent decline in the band’s influence on popular music seemed to coincide with the deaths of two of its original members, Gene Clark (in 1991) and Michael Clarke (1993). Notwithstanding this decline, the Byrds have always flown high and commanded serious respect among certain pockets of fans and bands alike – folks in Northern England especially, for some reason. Since 1990, we’ve seen the likes of the La’s, the Stone Roses, the Coral and Shack flying the jangle-pop flag. Since 2007, Kontiki Suite, a talented sextet from England’s Lake District, has continued in this tradition, evidence of which can be readily found on their sophomore release, "The Greatest Show On Earth".

As with their debut release (2013’s "On Sunset Lake"), Kontiki Suite proudly flies its Byrds banner via some obvious stylistic hat-tips to 1968’s "The Notorious Byrd Brothers". This time out, the band boasts a batch of impressive new Rickenbacker-based janglers (mainly from the pen of guitarist Ben Singh) and a tougher sound from the rest of the band (Jonny Singh, lap steel guitar; Marcus Dodds, guitar; Mario Renucci, bass; Chris Brown and Craig Bright on drums and percussion respectively). The result is a cohesive, 50-minute flight high above exquisitely atmospheric psych/country-rock/chamber pop soundscapes.

The opening moments of guitar/rim shots in the rousing, Golden Smog-like opener “Bring Our Empire Down” recall David Crosby’s serene “Dolphin’s Smile,” after which some Neil Young-like crunch is thrown in as the song gathers steam. “My Own Little World” features the kind of textured ‘n’ trippy triple-guitar interplay (including lap steel and 12-string Rickenbacker) that characterizes the overall tone of the album – tone that is often upended by deliciously abrupt shifts in tempo: the lads in Kontiki Suite are more than happy to jolt you out of the hypnotized state in which they deftly placed you. Occasional, judiciously chosen blasts of harmonica tug on the same heartstrings as in Big Star’s “Life is White.”

“Free From Sound” and “Here for You Now” are tremendous pop songs, the kind of tracks that, back in the day, would’ve jumped out of an AM radio and grabbed you by the throat. The former features a keening pedal steel hook that’s hell-bent on becoming your next earworm. The latter blends a “Ticket To Ride” beat with power-poppy rhythm reminiscent of Gene Clark’s evergreen “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”

Elsewhere, the band flexes its muscle on two lengthy guitar workouts, “Burned” (with its nod to Younger Than Yesterday’s “Renaissance Fair”) and the slow-burning “Under the Rug,” while “All I Can Say” shows the effortlessness with which Singh’s vocals can reconcile an ostensibly bouncy rhythm with a melancholic melody. In places he sounds uncannily like Gary Louris. Fans of "Sound of Lies"-era Jayhawks would feel right at home with this release.

Ultimately, "The Greatest Show On Earth" reveals increased depth, both in Ben Singh’s writing and the band’s collective vision. Kontiki Suite has created much more than a simple paean to the legacy of the Byrds; they have taken vital steps in forging a legacy of their own.

Chatting up the Byrds with Kontiki Suite’s Craig Bright and Benjamin Singh

Tell me about the cover/title concept for the new record?

Craig Bright: During the time period in which we wrote and recorded The Greatest Show On Earth, three of the six band members have been fortunate enough to become parents. One of the lucky fathers, Jonny Singh, wrote the opening song on the album, Bring Our Empire Down, about the juxtaposition of the joy and virgin challenges of parenthood and, one line in particular in the song, refers to "the greatest show on earth"; Jonny's way of describing the wonder of witnessing the miracle of your own child being born. Moreover, when we identified the title of the album, it served to conjure a vision of an old school creepy freak-show in our minds.

So, looking at the front cover of the album, you will see a couple of key elements: One, a crowd observing the show; and two, the decidedly freaky dream sequence of a child at peace, asleep. Our brief was realised by the fantastic Luke Insect, a U.K. based designer.

Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.

C.B.: The Byrds, and their various related bands and solo projects, are very important to Kontiki Suite. As children of the nineties, we were able to discover and appreciate The Byrds vicariously through a love of the bands they themselves inspired and influenced, in which I would include The Stone Roses, Ride and Rain Parade, among many others.

It never fails to blow my mind when I consider the volume and diversity of the music The Byrds produced, particularly between 1965 and 1969. I guess we would cite The Notorious Byrd Brothers as the zenith of their output, as it is a beautifully perfect culmination of all of the best elements of their albums (folk, pop, psychedelia and country). Undeniably, [it is] the template for our sound.

Of course, the consistency of The Byrds' output weakened thereafter, but the void was more than filled by the solo albums of McGuinn, Crosby, Gram Parsons and most importantly to us, Gene Clark. For me to attempt to tell you how vital Gene's post-Byrds music is would be complete folly. Personally, my favourite Clark song is “The True One” (from 1974’s No Other). Pretty much musical perfection in its simplest form as far as I'm concerned.

So, yes, The Byrds are a significant, direct influence on us, musically, aesthetically and culturally.

Take me through the steps in which a Kontiki Suite song typically comes together.

Ben Singh: A Kontiki Suite song will almost always start life as an acoustic piece – a folk song, I guess. If it sounds good with just the vocal and an acoustic it gives the song a good chance of sounding good embellished. The song is usually complete in terms of structure and groove before being presented to the rest of the band and if it's a song I've wrote and I've a strong idea of how it should sound I will sometimes record a demo in my home studio.

Down at the rehearsal room I'd play a handful of tunes to the band, either the recorded demos or just with the acoustic and we'd just jam through them. It's always nice if we hit the groove instantly. If it feels good we'll run with it and then we'll start to work on the guitars in more detail.

With the song beginning as an acoustic song I'll play the rhythm guitar while singing the melody. Jonny Singh plays a lap steel adding a kind of 'movement' to the sound, swooning in and out. We usually add a quite a bit of reverb and delay to give it more texture. Marcus Dodds plays a Telecaster for the majority of this album, usually either a clean tone with a touch of reverb or a classic fuzz. He tends to play the fills in between the vocal lines and more often than not he takes the solos.

Guitar textures are an intrinsic part of your sound, especially in terms of the interplay between them. Is this something you spend a lot of time consciously working on? Or is it just a natural by-product of how the band writes?

B.S.: The interchange between the slide and the lead occur quite naturally and aren't overly worked on; I guess that has came with the experience of playing together for the length of time we have. All the guitar lines are based around the vocal lines and melody and we try not to have too much going on at the same time. On the recordings I'll put down an acoustic track, this adds a percussive dynamic and then a picking 12-string Rickenbacker. I tend play this through a compressor with reverb. On a lot of the songs this is the main guitar of the track and other guitars play off it. The sound is very deliberate and we do consciously work on it but it does come very naturally to us. I think the reason why the three electric guitar parts work together so well is due to contrasting styles we play.

CD and digital available here. New vinyl issue from Sugarbush Records available here. Includes free postage worldwide.

31 Oct 2017

The Active Listener Presents More English Weather

Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs' "English Weather" is quite probably my favourite album of the last year or so. Stanley and Wiggs have done a fantastic job of selecting and sequencing these tracks to provide a seamless and unspoiled listening experience that is quintessentially English and wonderfully pastoral. Not to mention one that introduced me to a number of artists that I wasn't really familiar with.

In tribute, I've put together a follow up volume of tunes from the UK from the same era that evoke a similar mood for me. I'd like to think that Stanley and Wiggs had some of these shortlisted for their comp. Sound quality may vary as tracks come from a number of sources.

I hope you enjoy it - you can download it in 320 kb mp3 format here, and please investigate the full albums of these artists as many of the albums that these tracks originate from are classics in their own right.

And you can get Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present: English Weather here.

Tracklisting for More English Weather:

Tomorrow Morning Brings 2:39 Pacific Drift (from Feelin' Free)
Night Clouded Moon 5:41 Diabolus (from Diabolus)
Flying South in Winter 6:28 Tonton Macoute ( from Tonton Macoute)
October Witches 8:05 Still Life (from Still Life)
House on the Hill 4:05 Audience (from The First Audience Album)
Tell You I'm Gone 4:10 Woody Kern (from The Awful Disclosures Of Maria Monk)
We Can Make It If We Try 4:35 Aquila (from Aquila)
Dance In The Smoke 6:18 Argent (from Argent)
Skin Valley Serenade 3:45 Skin Alley (from Two Quid Deal)
The Garden of Jane Delawney 4:06 Trees (from The Garden Of Jane Delawney)
It Wasn't For You  5:33 Titus Groan (from Titus Groan)
Green Eyed God (7" Version)  3:50 Steel Mill (from Jewels Of The Forest (Green Eyed God Plus))
The House 3:28 Ginhouse (from Ginhouse)
Sun God a) Awakening b) Realisation c) Worship 11:14 Raw Material (from Time Is...)
Magical Love 4:37 Saturnalia (from Magical Love)

30 Oct 2017

Bons - Gras H'utsi

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Spillage Fete is a singular label that occasionally puts out highly conceptualised and wonderfully enigmatic records from a slowly rotating cast of players. I imagine it being run by someone who is completely bonkers but in a really nice way. The sort of person who would engage you warmly on the merits of making your own wooden furniture or birdwatching and doesn't watch much telly. Someone distractedly engaged with an outside world that they don't fully subscribe to.

Bons is the latest musical venture to spring forth from the Spillage Fete label, noted for its interest in the less trodden of musical paths. "Gras H'utsi" does not disappoint on this measure or on many others as it's series of seemingly unrelated and tribal musical interruptions criss-cross your mind and pull you into a world that is simultaneously intricate and straightforward, instructive and confusing. The records title seems to indicate ruminations on European and African culture but are filtered and abstracted in such a way as to not offer anything as musically straightforward or instructive.

These are field recordings of half remembered dreams that the listener is asked to complete. It is a deeply personal listening experience that involves you in a way rarely found in these days of mass media manipulation.

So, how to describe in words this series of 16 short sonic interludes? Well here we go...

It is a supremely home-made record and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. The production values and instrumentation of choice mean that the record lives and breathes in your sitting room. It is optimally an indoors record that you allow to take a seat in your home - a conjuror's suitcase of 16 sounds with a human edge that all seek intimacy with the listener and gently coerce you into giving them your undivided attention. It's a great trick to pull off and Bons succeed perfectly in this objective.

Song titles as far as I can tell are not instructive and neither are the exquisite prints of paintings that adorn the accompanying booklet. This of course adds to the fun.

The exceptions to this analysis are the oddly affecting 'Double Latin' which to my warped mind is the most clearly conceptualised piece on the record. It successfully conveys the impression of slowly walking past the closed door of a school classroom during lesson time. And just as I congratulate myself for this amazing piece of realisation it quickly dissipates into a cloud of wow and flutter.

The other is 'Winnowing' which as you all know is the ancient Asian art of separating wheat from chaff by throwing it up into the air and allowing the lighter particles to blow away leaving the seeds to make the bread. A lovely metaphor for this beautifully sparse and deeply rural snapshot of warmth. It's a beautiful piece of music and my personal highlight of the record.

Elsewhere, we find the double bass and backwards tape treatment of 'Radical Shush' and the sweetly revolving 'Landschaft'. The mechanical looping of 'Syntax' floats overhead before taking a dreamy vocal turning - a bit like Grizzly Bear if they abandoned any sense of structure. "Dot Hub" is a weird collage that bewilders before dropping you off at a random bus stop miles from anywhere, though at least it's a stop with a shelter. Proceedings are brought to a suitably abrupt close with 'Low Hangs the Fruit' which announces itself before almost immediately making for the exit.

Colin Newman's (of Wire) "A to Z" is a fairly hopeful if sonically more dissonant reference point. You can also hear the work of Eno, Basinski and the hauntological essays of Belbury Poly, but really I'm grasping at the air - Bons are far too singular to stable comfortably with others.

What is for certain is that Bons have arrived to bring clarity to your overly cluttered life. Stop for a moment, make yourself a cup of tea and luxuriate in the endless possibilities of this delightfully strange musical experience. They are abstract expressionists of sound and masters at their chosen craft. You should find the time to join in with them for a while and remove yourself from the daily punishment of orthodoxy and routine.

Available on vinyl from selected independent retailers and directly here:

29 Oct 2017

Keith Seatman - All Hold Hands And Off We Go

Reviewed by Grey Malkin

Hampshire artist Keith Seatman beckons us to return to his spooked, analogue world with his fifth album 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go', the follow up to 2015's masterful folk flecked slice of electronic pastoralism 'A Rest Before A Walk'. With a back catalogue of haunted gems as well as being the architect behind the highly recommended Test Transmission mixes, Seatman is quietly cementing a reputation as one of the foremost and most influential of electronic explorers in the realm inhabited by fellow travellers Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and Concretism. 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' more than cements this; this is possibly Seatman's finest yet and an album which seems to unveil more depth, detail and riches upon each successive encounter.

The brief ominous hum and distant chatter of voice that opens 'A Lighthouse Might Look Long' provides a startling and pleasingly disorientating beginning to proceedings before the driven and urgent synth stomp of 'All Hold Hands And Off We Go' accelerates the listener into a metallic and neon filled dream. Electronic drumbeats propel the whirling strings and twisted carnivalesque keys and chimes; both exhilarating and disconcerting this ably sets out Seatman's stall and leaves some other 'hauntology' or electronica acts seem tame and plodding in comparison. 'Skipping Rope' goes even further down the rabbit hole, a descending synth motif merges with a children’s' song, music boxes and clattering percussion to create a truly spectral and ghost filled vision that begs repeat listening; nightmares have rarely sounded quiet so delicious. Next, 'Mr Metronome' eases the pace to a stately, dystopian glacial grandeur, strings framing vocalist Douglas E Powell's breathtaking performance; fans of John Foxx, should immediately seek this out. Should an alternative soundtrack to Ben Wheatley's 'High Rise' be needed then he need look no further; this is both chilling and addictive. 'Left behind, Lost Or Dropped' screams into view, propelled by insistent keys and increasingly frantic drumbeats, it's melody (as Seatman's seem to) getting under the listener’s skin and into the imagination; this music conjures visuals like almost no other. Next, 'Four Steps At A Time' shrouds its glistening melodies in a cosmic wind, echoes from a past within the present ricocheting and returning around the steady electric beat. Haunting and curiously uplifting, this track exemplifies the layers and careful construction involve din Seatman's mini symphonies, there is so much going on here that repeated listens are ably rewarded. 'Odd In A Nightcap and Cup' posits backwards effects amidst synthetic voices and analogue bleeps and whirrs before an organ harmony plucked straight from some decaying old Hollywood film hovers into view; this music is filled with ghosts. 'Tap Tap' is a foreboding slice of future sock; rasping keyboards and a colossal sounding drums give an indication perhaps of what Black Sabbath might have sounded like in alternate universe had they formed with a battery of Korg synths rather than conventional instruments. 'Boxes With Rhythms In' returns Douglas E Powell to the helm for an album highlight, a shimmering jewel of a song, banks of strings and keys creating a processional march of no small power. The album concludes with 'Of salt And candy', a children’s' nursery rhyme resonating against electronic howls and gusts; an ending befitting the otherworldly nature of what has come before.

This is a masterclass in atmosphere and mood but also in melody and song craft; Seatman has composed an album that lingers long after it has finished, it leaves its own ghosts behind and delightfully so. This is essential listening but don't stop here; seek out Seatman's earlier albums for more treasures.

CD and digital available here:

23 Oct 2017

Cozmic Corridors

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Interesting one this. In the mid nineties the Psi-Fi label released a stash of Krautrock albums on CD which were purported to originally have been released by the Pyramid label, with Cozmic Corridors' self titled 1972 album being among them. There was a lot of talk at the time as to whether these were genuine seventies albums or whether they'd been put together as fakes at the time of their mid nineties release. The fact that no-one seems to have been able to trace any of the original seventies Pyramid pressings of any of these albums seems to provide the most telling evidence in this case. Although "Cozmic Corridors" does also claim to feature Mythos drummer Hans-Jürgen Pütz on percussion, so maybe someone should ask him.

Either way, Guerssen's Mental Experience offshoot label has seen fit to rerelease "Cozmic Corridors" on vinyl (or release it for the first time on vinyl depending what side of the fence you're on), so that we can re-evaluate it and judge it on its musical merits exclusively, which is what I intend to do here.

If this is a fake (which admittedly seems likely), it's an exceptionally good one. Musically there's nothing going on here that would have been incongruous in 1972, in terms of influences or instrumentation. And more importantly, it's a really great album. Krautrock isn't the most user friendly genre, but "Cozmic Corridors" is a really inviting, easy to digest album, which is a little unusual as it's also a very moody piece of progressive electronic / kosmische music.

There's plenty going on in these five mostly lengthy pieces. Built on a bedrock of keyboards / synths (Moog and Rhodes feature prominently) there are some compelling forays into cinematic, gialloesque horror score sounds ("Dark Path", "Daruber"), organ drones reminiscent of Terry Riley, and ritualistic chants which give this a dark, meditative, occult atmosphere that I found irresistable.

Certainly fans of Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Emtidi are encouraged to investigate this immediately, as are fans of the Ghost Box label who will find the textures here evoke the same sense of comfortable but uneasy nostalgia that artists like Belbury Poly specialise in.

Vinyl, CD and digital (as well as full stream) are all available here:

19 Oct 2017

Oliver Cherer – The Myth of Violet Meek

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Oliver Cherer is highly prolific, I sort of think of him as a more benevolent ‘Surgeon of Crowthorne’ (aka Dr. William C. Minor 1834 – 1920), despatching odes and sonic letters to the outside world from his half-lit lair by the gently lapping English Channel. In his guise as solo artist he has concocted a rather sinister tincture that when aurally ingested plants the listener firmly in the fly-agaric world woodlands of the South Downs. His new release, “The Myth of Violet Meek”, successfully combines the unsettling and the euphoric in a series of folk-laden lullabies that threaten to overwhelm but ultimately leave enough air-space to allow safe(ish) passage through its rural and occasionally savage path.

So what we have is a self-authored legend charting the life, habits and death of Violet and the impact of her being on those in her immediate surrounds and of the musical curator who feasts upon her existence. The mood is often heavy, with barely suppressed violence and sexual depravity colouring the air amid the scraping of strings and the forthright punctuation of the piano that often surfaces in some benediction of the events that are unfolding and serve as a shell for the listener to make safe travel through. It reminds this author of 70’s acid-folk misfits Comus (‘Who Killed the Bears’) filtered through a more incisive set of songwriting chops that say someone like Luke Haines would display (‘Violet Says’). You could even make an argument for the record in totality being a reworking of Lou Reed’s gothic masterpiece ‘Berlin’ translated to a field in Victorian England.

In any case, all of these comparisons however inaccurately applied tell you a lot about the songwriting chops of Oliver Cherer. He is a classicist composer with genetic mutation whose fusing of musical viewpoints and deployment of light and shade utilising a range of largely acoustic instruments is mightily impressive. Even in the presently overpopulated ‘nu-folk’, ‘alt-folk’, ‘acid folk’, ‘fuzzy felt folk’ genre, ‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ shows the qualities of a thoroughbred in a field of ponies. Listen to the beautiful ghost waltz of ‘Valentine’ as it skips across your mind and entrances you whilst expertly keeping you out of the dance before vanishing into the net curtains of your mind. Or the stately ballad ‘Unspoken’ delivered with all the authority of a walnut grandfather clock chiming out at three. In an empty house. The queasy hurdy gurdy string ensemble of ‘A Bear with Two Backs’, the hobo folk-blues figure of the almost unbearably self-disgustedly frank ‘Slag’.

As always, Oliver Cherer is not a perennial half empty communicator and he is programmed to find some warming resolution to any concept, however heavy it may be. The penultimate, ‘Trees’ is a brilliant anthemically drifting song which appears from behind the dark side of the moon to illuminate the twilight world we have previously dwelled in when hearing of the myth of Violet Meek. Our brains may be damaged but peace can be found in the trees. In the nature from which we sprang and from which we all must return. It’s a celebratory end to a remarkable journey. Almost. For as we draw our curtains and reach for bed the faint rustlings and psaltery of Violet and her sisters lurk just out of sight, beyond the hedgerow. Waiting.

‘The Myth of Violet Meek’ is available on several formats including a lovely white vinyl edition from your local independent stockists or direct from Wayside and Woodland Records.

17 Oct 2017

Tanizaki - Archaeology

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Where Tanizaki's first EP "Ouroboros"(which I raved about here) was all subdued synth menace and wobbly beats, the new EP "Archaeology" makes extensive use of acoustic guitar to capture the same atmosphere of disquiet. Granted, there have been several releases since "Ouroboros" that I haven't heard, so I'm missing a few evolutionary steps, nonetheless the change here is startlingly impressive.

It's not totally unheard of for acoustic guitars to be used in the hauntology genre - both The Advisory Circle and Belbury Poly have dabbled and used them for colouring before - but it's unusual to hear them given such prominence. There's long been a relationship between pagan folk music and hauntology and it's addressed very nicely here. Tanizaki describes it best when he calls his music 'weird nature music', a description that could be taken a number of ways but conjures a very specific sound in my mind, almost a hauntological 'thin wild mercury sound'.

Tanizaki is really doing a service to the genre by pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as hauntology here. While it's often viewed as a branch of electronica, I've heard correlations in the more natural instrumentation of artists like Wyrdstone, Sproatly Smith and the Rowan Amber Mill that give me the same nostalgic rush as Ghost Box's more celebrated artists. The "Year in the Country" series can also be thanked for illustrating this relationship on their excellent compilations.

"Archaelogy" successfully strips back the keyboards, which now provide a subtle supporting role and focuses on lovely, pastoral acoustic guitar that evoke memories of Summerisle, with snatches of field recordings adding further textural colour.

The haunting arpeggios of "Dumnonia" make for an arresting opener, but best of all is "Crane Dance" where the guitars and vintage synths engage in a moody sensuous dance, effortlessly and inseperably entwined.

Lovely stuff, available as a name your price download here: