31 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
What a superb collection this is. Grapefruit's new, bargain priced triple CD charts a course to the British underground folk scene, specifically between 1967 and 1972, the years when psychedelia and progressive rock were being integrated into other strands of music, which was evolving at an accelerating rate, breaking down the boundaries between genres.
The UK folk scene had already seen a major revival just prior to this timeframe, thanks to young blood like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, but it wasn't until the onset of psychedelia, and the establishment of the album as a major statement, that the British folk scene really began to expand with the explosion of young folk talent chronicled here.
In terms of production, it's often not overtly psychedelic, but when it is, it's spectacularly so, particularly on Mary-Anne's "Black Girl" - one of many artists introduced to me by this collection that I will be investigating further in the future. Instead these artists paid attention to the possibilities offered by psychedelia and progressive rock, and took these lessons to heart, writing progressively more complex songs with a wider frame of reference, rather than relying strictly on traditional material. Exotic instrumentation is introduced into the mix, and songs like Mick Softley's "Eagle" seamlessly integrate Eastern influences in exciting new ways.
Much of what you'll find here could be classed as acoustic progressive music. Rarely do the artists use a typical verse, refrain, verse structure, instead electing for complex multi-part songs, opening up explorative possibilities for improvisation, while still remaining strictly tethered to the songcraft demanded of folk music.
Many labels have released collections with similar goals to that of this one, but there have always been glaring omissions that have hampered the credibility of these anthologies as definitive articles. This, however, is the real deal. Everyone that should be here, is, and they're all represented by appropriate material, lovingly remastered. On top of the big names, there are numerous acts spread over these three discs who are entirely new to me, and they're uniformly excellent, making this collection ideal for those wanting to dig deep, and reignite their excitement for the genre, as well as those taking their first steps into investigating the UK folk underground.
Phenomenal, and a total bargain for the asking price.
Available here (US), or here (UK/EU).
30 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Katje Janisch has had a few tantalising and bewitching psych tinged songs on ye olde world wide web for some time now. It is therefore a genuine delight to find a whole, brand new début album of otherworldly and wyrd folk to fall under the spell of. Entirely performed and recorded by Janisch herself on guitar, recorder, percussion, piano, dulcimer and other esoteric stringed instruments, this is music that harks back to the classic purveyors of psychedelic folk such as Linda Perhacs, Susan Christie and Vashti Bunyan as well as setting out its own, unique stall.
Opener 'The Ancestors' begins with a gentle sprinkling of piano, woodwind, the sound of a dulcimer and Janisch's distinctive and ethereal harmonies. Transportive and utterly beautiful in its cascading melodies and unearthliness, this music is magical indeed. 'The Dance' is a sprightly recorder led, Will O' the Wisp of a song; it seems to skip through the woodland in a haze of acidic folk via a myriad of layered vocals and glistening acoustic reverie. Next, 'Neptune's Dream' is a more reflective piece, Janisch's carefully and effectively placed vocal harmonies drifting softly over finger picked guitar and washes of strings. This is music to dream to, to close your eyes to and find yourself in the land of Fae or perhaps down the rabbit hole with Alice herself. 'The Queen of Swords' melancholy air is punctuated by insistent percussion, adding a delicious tension to the stately and baroque atmosphere. The song ends with a choir that literally raises the hair on the back of your neck. Fans of Joanna Newsom, Fern Knight and Espers will adore this as will aficionados of classic psych folk such as Mellow Candle, Caedmon, Trees and Stone Angel.
'Seven' adds cello and a medieval processional grace, these are songs of another era and another world; romantic, beautifully sad and truly timeless. Special mention must go to Janisch's incredible vocal range; she holds a quiet power that never overwhelms the delicate and considered arrangements but which instead compliments her music and becomes almost an additional instrument in itself. Next, 'The Yew Tree (Resurrection)' is a folk fable of eerie and nimble loveliness, xylophone twinkling over cello and an unforgettable, circling guitar motif whilst 'Mother' is haunting chamber folk with a late night Wicker Man mood. 'The Golden Cup' reminds this listener of Nick Drake's wistful and wondrous stylings; a dusky, autumnal, smoky air is ably conjured by Janisch's spectral vocals and the echoed woodwind. 'Cordelia's Lament' is a ghost filled, sombre but evocative affair, like the aural equivalent of cinematic chillers 'The Innocents' or 'The Haunting'. Strings bow and bend and pizzicato punctuates the song's icy, gothic atmosphere. Final track 'The Hunter And The Fairy' adds gentle acoustic warmth in a wyrd lament that is filled with both magic and moonlight.
That an album containing so many gentle jewels is only Janisch's début bodes extremely well for her future releases, for this a hugely accomplished, deeply impressive and utterly spellbinding album filled with white witchcraft and the lore of the woodlands. For genuinely timeless and beautifully made acid folk take a trip here, just west of twilight.
Available now in limited quantities on the Reverb Worship label in a lovely, handmade sleeve featuring Janisch's artwork. Make haste as this will sell out quickly.
Here's a streamable version for you to check out:
29 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Maggie Danna
"Brain Cream", Jaill’s fifth album, is chock-full of infectious jangle pop which often toys with surf rock. This is an interesting genre for a band that is based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and full of depressingly melancholy lyrics. Lo-fi and a bit psychedelic, Jaill plays in a style comparable to that of Wampire and Warm Soda. While "Brain Cream" is quite similar to Jaill’s previous albums, it has a more polished and synth-dominant sound than its predecessors.
“Got an F”, the album’s focus track and single, manages to make the experience of failing sound like a positively joyous experience, thanks to the band’s sunny, buoyant sound. The listener is left unsure of exactly what the band got an F on, but can rest assured that it was certainly not this song, which is A+ material. “Getaway” is another superb track and has a great hand-drawn music video featuring the band playing nonchalantly while aliens, hot dogs, and other objects ranging from the absurd to the mundane scroll past them in the background.
"Brain Cream:, and much of Jaill’s previous work (especially their fourth album, "Traps"), reminds me very strongly of early of Montreal (think "Cherry Peel" – "Aldhils Arboretum" era) and The Apples In Stereo (especially "Fun Trick Noisemaker"), due to its slightly acoustic nature, keyboard synths, and whimsicality. This similarity is most apparent in “Symptoms”, which, with its precise combination of sliding synths and jangly guitar and its extremely Kevin Barnes-esque vocals makes the comparison undeniable. So, if you like Elephant 6, make sure to check this out.
Jangle pop as a genre is especially well suited for summer weather, and "Brain Cream" is the perfect summer album as it is fun, substantive, and goofy. On first glance, the album art appears to be a colorful assortment of ice cream cones with the band’s name written across them in pink lettering. On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that it is not ice cream but brains (thus, brain cream) on the cones and that the lettering of the band’s name is full of tiny ants, most likely coming to lick up the delectable drips from the melting brain cream. The initially idyllic appearance of the album cover is similar to that of the songs, which are upbeat and full of poppy hooks but ultimately dark, saturated by hopelessness and self-deprecation. It’s definitely pop, but with various oddities.
RIYL: Wampire, of Montreal, Warm Soda, The Apples in Stereo
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
28 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
The always ambitious Fruits de Mer label have tweaked their formula slightly for their latest release with fantastic results. Classic tunes from a bygone era, given a good psychedelic going over is still the order of the day, but "Side Effects" is a tribute to the 12" single, with eight different artists given a full side each to dissect and explore a favourite track. Some have chosen tracks which are already lengthy in their original forms, while others have been more adventurous in their selections.
This handsome box set (with artwork by The Luck of Eden Hall's Gregory Curvey), contains four LPs, "Sidetracks", "Sideways", "Sideshows" and "Sidesteps". Let's take a look at them one by one.
The Soft Bombs open "Sidetracks" with a faithful rendition of Pink Floyd's "Echoes", which sticks reasonably closely to the original, but accentuates all that was great about the Floyd version. On the flip Arcade Messiah flesh out Aphrodite's Child's "Four Horsemen" encompassing everything from psychedelia to space-rock to prog-metal (which makes it a bit of an anomaly in the FDM catalogue).
"Sideshows" turns the space-rock dial all the way up to eleven. Superfjord turn in what I reckon is the highlight of the set, turning the Byrds "CTA 102" into the stratospheric envelope pusher that it's always yearned to be. The explorative instrumental passages here are pretty great, and there's an amazing vocal sequence that sounds like someone introduced Brian Wilson to a sampler. Pretty special. The Luck of Eden Hall are on the other side, de-programming some of the more progressive elements out of Yes's "Starship Trooper" and reprogramming it as a prime piece of cosmic psychedelia.
Lastly we have "Sidesteps", a pretty amazing prog jazz / space-rock hybrid. Julie's Haircut do an ambitious, but fabulous job of Miles Davis' "Shhh/Peaceful", fusing the original's sense of zen-like wonder, with some of the more furious playing from "A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Most would fall flat on their face attempting this, but Julie's Haircut own it. And what to say about the final track here? The wilfully perverse Sendelica take a crack at Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". Stripping it of all vocals, they reshape it into an extraordinary suite of ambient / space-rock with a few progressive jazz elements. Amazing.
What's particularly impressive about "Side Effects" (apart from the inventive arrangements, and stellar playing), is that over the course of these four long records, the artists never lose their focus, contributing 17 to 24 minutes apiece that are entirely filler free. I'm almost certain that this is my favourite Fruits de Mer release so far, and as FDM are one of my very favourite labels, you can take that as a particularly enthusiastic recommendation.
Available here from August 21st - preorder now, I'm told that they are selling extremely fast, and may be all sold on pre-sale.
27 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Joseph Murphy
Porto, Portugal’s 10000 Russos (pronounced “dez mil russos”) are Fuzz Club Records' latest practitioners of space rock . The story of this record, according to the band, is that it was “written and recorded inside an abandoned 1980s shopping mall, where escalators have been out of order for the last fifteen years and the only source of light is some plastic Swedish designed / Chinese made bulbs.” With a mythology like that, the trio’s debut places itself in a self-made context of isolation and something near mock nostalgia. And, as a whole, the record seems to have achieved its goal of exploring a marginalized landscape that’s both urban and internal; if a debut record can achieve any emotional response, the band’s done the heavy lifting. There’s an eeriness and gothic thickness to “10000 Russos” that’s memorable – and more memorable than a lot of records.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, 10000 Russos embraces a steady bass drum thump that acts as an anchor to their otherwise wandering sonic excursions. That constant beat acts as a mile marker, keeping listeners in the moment while tracking the distance from the start. So while tracks like “UsVsUs” map surrounding space, there’s a constant, hypnotic beat to ground it across all its eight minutes.
“Karl Burns” is a slow groove that, by way of drummer and vocalist João Pimento’s sparse, effected but confident vocal meter, channels the Doors over its continuous drones and pulses. Compared with the songs that follow it, “Karl Burns” focuses more on the atmosphere and feel of the song than the explosive passages that appear in the rest, while still prepping listeners for the larger sonic flourishes to follow.
“Baden Baden Baden” kicks off the b-side and, much like the previous side, continues with motorik beats, sprawling guitar, focused bass and effect laden vocals, but “Baden Baden Baden” feels more focused and streamlined, preparing listeners for the long closing two part track, “Stakhanovets / Kalumet,” which is the album at its strongest and most ambitious.
10000 Russos’ self-titled record is available now digitally from Fuzz Club Record’s Bandcamp page (below) and CD or vinyl pre-order from the label’s main page.
This one will be playing for a while here.
26 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Andy Wade (brother and collaborator of psych masters Dodson And Fogg's Chris Wade) follows up his impressive debut 'Pushing Senses' with this new release which is veritably bursting at the seams with cosmic, psychedelic exploration and creation. One wonders about what went into the milk these two brothers had as infants but there is a parallel sense of the joy of making music in both their works; 'Fix It Till It's Broken' is no exception and demands to be heard.
The opening title track sets out the album's stall with thrillingly brutal bursts of squalling psych guitar and thudding bass, framed by the siren's wail and rise and fall of oscillating synths. It is an arresting start to a varied, creative and breathtaking album. 'Prowl''s unusual time signatures, Hammond flourishes and garage rock touches are exemplary, recalling Procol Harum and Bevis Frond in their barely restrained menace and intensity whilst 'My Beginning, My End' is a reflective and widescreen, banjo flecked ballad of loss and hope. 'Who We Were's fiery guitar sound and glistening piano runs are filled with more insistent hooks and memorable riffs than many bands manage in an entire album. With hints of both Warren Zevon and The Icicle Works this is classic rock with added twists and curious corners. 'Interlude' adds one of those unusual and unpredictable yet pleasingly left field forays with a pulsating electronic instrumental, like Kraftwerk with added explosive Neil Young guitar. 'Don't Take This Away' is a dramatic country-hued stomp, filled with reverberated guitar and piano stabs. This could easily have been the soundtrack to the new series of True Detective, its dark, traditional Americana sound perfect for soundtracking the shadowy Stateside underbelly. Next, 'Run' is a Kinksian/ Dave Davies styled paean with an exquisite guitar melody and hugely evocative waves of piano. For Wade there seems to be an almost endless well of musical creativity and invention, the album veers from thrilling, full on psych rock ('Dive') to carefully constructed and layered late night laments ('One For Life'). This album is one man's vision and you get the feeling that every note, every line is utterly genuine and from the very heart. This only adds to the exuberant and enticing nature of this release. One can't help but be enthralled and enraptured by the sheer talent and energy on display. 'Staring At The Sun' closes the album, echoed guitar and pensive harmonies giving way to thunderous Crazy Horse riffage and fuzz guitar. A suitably thrilling end to an album that virtually buzzes and crackles with sheer life force.
Available from the links here, this is a hugely successful and eclectic piece of work that drips conviction, life and honesty. Wade has created a second slice of psych rock wonder; join him there.
24 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Indiana's Triptides have finally washed up in Los Angeles, a much more suitable home away from home for their appealling, bite sized snacks of hazy summer psychedelia.
The move seems to have helped them shed the last vestiges of their vintage jangle, replacing it with a much more contemporary sheen, which sees them pawning their Byrdsy tendencies in favour of a much shinier, post-eighties jangle influence.
Perhaps it's just me, but I've found that it's almost impossible to listen to "Azur" without visualising one of those really colourful multicoloured plastic beach balls. Go and try now. You're back? Hard, wasn't it?
"Azur", simply put, sounds like Real Estate's "Days" draped over a deck chair with a margherita, which is extremely welcome as we're smack bang in the middle of one of the chilliest cold spells I can remember over here in the New Zealand Winter. Given that this hardly constitutes the ideal listening conditions for this album, I'm a little concerned about how obssesed I'd have become with "Azur" had I been exposed to it in our Summer.
There's not a lot more to be said. Short, sharp and irresistable, there's plenty within these songs to keep vintage pop addicts, and scenesters alike happy. The always reliable team at Norman Records sum it up perfectly: "an utterly perfect amalgam of ‘60s beat pop (The Hollies!) with those moments when Deerhunter decide they are going to be a pop combo."
I can't top that. The perfect Summer record.
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
23 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz
Ah, a new release from airy folk bard Meg Baird (Espers), who has recorded some of the most gorgeous folk I've heard in the past decade. Hearkening back to talents such as the late, great Sandy Denny and her sister in song, Maddy Prior, you can’t go wrong with music of this ilk. Recorded after a geographical change in Meg’s life, moving her from the Philly area to San Francisco. Given Meg’s predilection for psychedelic musical turns, I’d say she’s in the right place. Her voice soars easily to the highest heights even while dipping into alto valleys, and her double-tracked harmonies expand her sonic palette even further. Her acoustic guitar and piano are accompanied by longtime collaborator Charlie Saufley on guitar.
As with any Meg Baird record, you can expect beautifully sung, exquisitely wrought songs, tunes that show glimmers and fleeting moments of life, airy and light even while plumbing deep wells of emotion. “Past Houses” and its reprise are like pools of shade on a hot summer’s day, while the lovely, pastoral “Counterfeiters” almost reminds me of a speeded up Pink Floyd song. Her voice here is like delicate lace, lightly touching down between Charlie’s slide work and her own fingerpicking. She is both confident and reticent, putting her voice out there while she emotionally withdraws from the listener. Listen to “Stars Unwinding” as it inhabits your mind, and you may be reminded of old Pentangle tunes. The gorgeous “Mosquito Hawks” could be a great lost tune from Richard and Linda Thompson, and is possibly the best track among a string of superlative songs. Despite the solitary demeanor displayed on some of these songs, Meg sings and plays with a sureness born of great talent, perseverance, and patience. The waiting time between albums is long, and perhaps songs are slowly borne as life happens around her.
“Back to You” has an almost Renaissance feeling to it, and Meg’s voice here is plaintive and yearning. “Leaving Song” is a madrigal, and is far too short. I am fairly sure I could listen to an entire album of such angelic beauty. A minute is definitely not long enough! “Good Directions” is more complicated, sounding as though an Appalachian folk group rose out of the earth to accompany Meg on this tune. It has a fast pace, but you can’t quite dance a reel to this song. It certainly underscores how well these two musicians play together, and is another high mark on this release.
The soft, gentle title track, “Don’t Weigh Down the Light” is an early morning song for sitting on the porch with coffee in hand, enjoying the view of mist shrouding the surrounding hills. It maintains its thoughtful, mournful air throughout, before fading out to the sad breakup song that follows, “Even the Walls Don’t Want You to Go.” Its slightly atonal melody suits the subject matter, and at times, Meg’s backing vocal sounds horn-like. “Past Houses (Reprise)” finishes out the record, and makes me think of Neil Young in his After the Gold Rush days.
This lovely album is a must for all fans of English folk, Renaissance, and Appalachian roots music, or for those who like their folk somber, mystical and beautifully rendered.
Available on CD here (UK/EU), and here (US), and on vinyl here (UK/EU),or here (US).
This month's sampler, resplendent in another sleeve by Jackie Donner (archivalshift.com), is now out and available below.
This month we feature:
1. ODAWAS - Partner of the Pack 03:56 2. The Smoking Trees - She Takes Flight With Me (Radio Edit) 04:11 3. Trabants - Mecca 04:34 4. MindFlowers - Collections 03:50 5. The Baudelaires - Colour Mary 03:51 6. The Parson Red Heads - Seven Years Ago 04:41 7. Sir Robin & The Longbowmen - I Would Like 05:08 8. Laike - Bort Från Istidens Sår (Away From The Wounds of The Ice Age) 03:54 9. Nuvem Leopardo - Narcisos 03:55 10. Sounds of Sputnik - Overdrive feat. Ummagma 04:35 11. Inner Oceans - 8 Cousins 05:52 12. Gabe Knox - Data Set 08:15 13. Sundays & Cybele - Almost Heaven 06:05 14. Moth Rah - Song of the Dreamer 03:42 15. Malka - Wolves and Sheep 05:15 16. Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapour - Highly Enchanting Eye 05:40
If you want to find out more about, or hear more from any of these artists the Bandcamp page below features links to the appropriate places. And the majority of these artists' latest releases have been reviewed on the Active Listener over the last month, so scrioll back and have a read while you're listening.
Download or stream here:
22 Jul 2015
Free Download Roundup - Nuvem Leopardo / Gabe Knox / Sir Robin & The Longbowmen / Mindflowers / Inner Oceans
Reviews by Nathan Ford
I seem to have accumulated quite a number of exceptionally good E.Ps available as free downloads over the last few weeks, so here's a particularly solid free download roundup for you. Take my advice and just download the whole lot of them. There's a world of new psychedelic treats in store for you below.
Nuvem Leopardo "Revolver Mercurio"
This Brazilian trio describe their music as 'gloomy psychedelic rock', a suitable description on paper, but not one that does justice to the music to be found within these grooves. "Revolver Mercurio" is their latest E.P, and it's a hugely enjoyable ride which seems to have found the magic sweet spot exactly half way between the Beatles and Black Sabbath. Beatlesque hooks and psychedelic production techniques blend effortlessly with fuzzy Tony Iommi-esque heavy psych guitars in a way that keeps this away from stoner / heavy rock territory, and firmly rooted in psychedelia.
There's an everpresent seam of Tropicalia laying just below the surface that gives this a playful tinge which compliments the melodic hooks marvellously.
Stream / download on a name your price basis here:
Gabe Knox "E.P:A"
Toronto based Gabe Knox is new to me, and perhaps everyone else too, as this is the first release on his Bandcamp page. That's not likely to be the case for long though, as "E.P:A" is a fantastic slice of vintage sounding Neu-werk. Knox has Neu's motorik beats, and Kraftwerk's vintage synth sounds down pat, and while I'll be the first to admit that there's nothing startlingly original going on here, I'd also venture the opinion that there is no one doing this sort of stuff this well at the moment - and there's no shortage of new Krautrock out there. If you connected with Kosmische Laufer, you're gonna absolutely adore this. Start with "Data Set" and go from there. Totally infectious music for cute robots.
Stream / download on a name your price basis here:
Sir Robin & The Longbowmen "Sir Robin & The Longbowmen"
The first EP from this Dresden based seven piece is a fantastic piece of big production psychedelia with traces of baroque pop, contemporary indie and vintage progressive rock coalescing to form a very diverse, but distinctive whole. Opener "I Would Like" evolves seamlessly from stomping Tame Impala-esque psychedelia to pastoral mellotron prog. Its successor, "Sunshower", on the other hand is all moody surf - think Allah-Las, the Kumari etc. In lesser hands this genre hopping would sound hopelessly messy and contrived, but Sir Robin & The Longbowmen put their own stamp on everything they attempt, and do so with confidence and a sack of great tunes in tow.
Stream / download on a name your price basis here:
I've raved about Chris Billington's one-man psych-pop supergroup Mindflowers before, and I'm bound to do so again. It baffles me that Billington is still releasing his music free through Bandcamp. Surely the larger indie labels should be battering down his door to release stuff of this quality? In every bit the same league as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Foxygen, Deerhunter and the like, Mindflowers is perhaps a little more overtly sixties orientated than his more well known peers, but these arrangements suit his simple, melodic songs to a tee. "Collections" is the best of a very strong batch of songs (ten in all) - a gorgeous psych ballad which I could quite happily listen to on repeat for hours. It's time for people to start paying attention now.
Stream / download on a name your price basis here:
Inner Oceans "8 Cousins // Everything's Alright"
Aside from its extremely psychedelic approach, the music that Denver's Inner Oceans makes is definently resistent to all attempts at pigeon-holing. This new E.P, created during a month of self-enforced stufio isolation, is a multi-layered, complex, textured beast with all manner of drones, treated vocals and synth layering. It's also full of hooks, which is the part of the equation that's often missing with these adventurous studio types. It all sounds thrillingly contemporary too, even while it references and assimilates lessons learnt from the past. And each track builds up a great head of steam, with a ferocious groove.
Psychedelic, adventurous pop, with an unusual depth.
Stream / download on a name your price basis here:
21 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Palace Of Swords, the ongoing electronic project of Aberdeen based visionary Peter Lyon, released two very limited 3” CD EPs on the Reverb Worship label that were snapped up almost immediately and have been out of print, but not out of demand, ever since. Following their 'Remixed' CD and 7” (which featured artists such as Joe Foster and Midwich Youth Club remixing gems from their back catalogue), Lyon has compiled a selection of past glories and newer tracks into this compilation of sorts which comes in a beautifully put together cassette release. Quite unlike anything or anyone else, Palace Of Swords feed from their influences of 90's independent music and 60's psychedelia to create shimmering, highly layered and carefully constructed electronica. A very special release by a very special and unique artist, this release is already selling quickly so haste is advised.
The album begins with the perhaps autobiographical 'I Am Peter The Hermit (Part 2)', sampled dialogue floating across sparkling analogue synth and flanged electronic percussion. With shades of Neu, Cabaret Voltaire and Suicide as well as acts like Broadcast (but also thrillingly and utterly individual), this is 'hairs on the back of the neck' material. The track virtually glides, repeating its central motif but also appearing to shape shift and morph as it develops into an electric symphony. 'The White Goddess (Part 1)' begins with a howl of electronic feedback and rising and falling oscillated keyboard strings as a delicate vintage keyboard riff and drone gradually emerge. Hugely inventive and quite unpredictable this sense of creative force and musical exploration reminds this listener of the classic 'White Noise' album that was produced by certain BBC Radiophonic Workshop luminaries in the late 60's, yet Palace Of Swords are not a hauntological throwback emulating the sounds of yesterday. They are something entirely of their own and this is part of the joy of hearing their work, it is like discovering a new musical language that conveys a thirst for exploration and an entirely new electronic palette of sound. Next, 'Echoes From A Distant Star' places pensive, cascading and reverbed organ notes across a virtual night sky, the haunted melody looping to provide both the end of one line and the start of the next in an eternal voyage through the darkness. Both melancholy and deeply beautiful it takes the breath away; Palace Of Swords make you stop, listen and wonder. 'The Castle Spectre's echoing and twinkling keyboard line floats along on a psychedelic haze, percussion propelling the track along with an insistence that is pleasingly addictive whilst 'The Black Lodge Will Rise Again' is a darker, more ritualistic affair altogether. Framed with the squall of Psychocandy-esque feedback and pounding drums this is the dark heart of the 60's dream, echoes of Altamont and Charles Manson seeping into the hearts of the flower children. 'Deer Park' meanwhile is a motorik anthem with snatches of film dialogue, reminiscent of The Fall this is hugely transportive music; I challenge you to not be mesmerized by these songs. Speaking of The Fall, the Mark E Smith influenced title of 'Live At The Aberdeen Witch Trials' gives way to a resonating electronic pulse and a solitary, echoed drumbeat that is both hypnotic and adds a powerfully effective tension. This is followed by 'The Temple Of Golden Rays (An Opium Reverie)', an Eastern, chiming melody layered with a spectral and wraith like harmony that shivers throughout the track creating a deeply immersive and trance like atmosphere. 'Asethete Cured's syncopated drum beat and echoed guitar merges the Velvets, Spacemen 3 and House Of Love with Delia Derbyshire and Ruth White to emerge sounding like nothing you will ever have heard before and all the better for it; Palace Of Swords vision is excitingly, utterly their own. Closer '(We Are) The New Hyperboreans' is a delicate, reflective piece of electronica that manages somehow to be both heart breaking and uplifting, something Palace Of Swords manage with ease.
I cannot recommend this release highly enough. These gems were thought lost when the original EPs went out of print and it is testament to the ever splendid Reverb Worship label and Lyon himself that we are again able to immerse ourselves in this, Palace Of Sword's own "La Belle Époque". Do not delay, this is essential listening; let Palace Of Swords be the card you pick.
Available now on cassette with an inlay printed onto metallic gold paper and cassette shells complete with silver glitter.
20 Jul 2015
What was the first record you bought?
I shelled out my hard-earned pocket money to one of those old mail order album companies to have "The best of Aerosmith" CD delivered to the front door. "Sweet emotion", "Back in the Saddle", "Walk this way",all the bangers.
What was the last record you bought?
"Axis of Evol" by Canadian band Pink Mountaintops was recently gifted to me for my birthday.
What’s the one thing about you that very few people know?
I earned a black belt when I was about twelve and have never had to attempt to use it. Which is lucky as I’m not convinced that junior karate training is gonna get me out of even the least sticky a situation.
If you could record with any one artist, who would it be and why?
Well, depending on the logistics like, if we could jump into a time machine I would steer us back to 1989 and have Bez from the Happy Mondays shake some tambourine with us because, could you imagine! But I feel that if we flew over tomorrow he’d be a bit of a dick about it.
Who should we be listening to right now?
You can’t lose sifting through anything from Melbourne and around really! So much fine music coming out of this city at the moment; Sunbeam Sound Machine, Worm Crown, the Shabbab, the Tiny Giants, Dumb Punts, Sewer Side and of course as many UV Race tunes as you can possibly squeeze into any given day. If you fancy a taste from abroad then buy a White Fence album. His records sound amazing and he has the best songs. Another favourite are Sex Hands, a band out of Manchester that only write songs about the television show friends. Rachael, Chandler, Joey, the whole gang.
Vinyl in the home, digital in the car and burnt cds at house parties..cassettes in 1991.
Tell us about your latest release.
Colour Mary is the first taste of our as yet unfinished and unnamed debut long player to be released later in the year. In the springtime maybe?
What’s next for you, musically?
In the coming weeks we will be retreating to a friend of a friend’s mum’s friend’s auntie’s house in the hills of the Mornington Peninsula for a four day (musical) bender, with the aim of having the album done, dusted and ready to be released through Off the Hip.
What’s for dinner?
A large margherita pizza. Naturally!
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Californian band She were one of the few authentic all-girl garage bands of the sixties, writing and performing all of their own material without the interference of record companies, who typically drafted in studio sessioners to augment (or replace) amateur musicians. Left to their own devices, and without a promotional team breathing down their necks, the novelty of an all-girl band in such a male dominated field could be safely pushed aside, leaving She to concentrate on more important matters – perfecting a bunch of crude, garage pop anthems which effortlessly spliced punk attitude with glorious, girl-group vocal hooks.
The earliest performances here, dating back to 1966, and recorded under the name of The Hairem are primitive in the extreme, with the drumming being particularly crude, but even at this early point Nancy Ross’ mixture of innocence, and contemptuous bad-girl snarl was appealingly evident, with some great vocal hooks and Beach Boys influenced guitarwork.
Fast forward to 1969 / 1970 when the rest of these recordings were made, and The Hairem have morphed into She, evolving beyond their garage roots, without abandoning them completely. Nancy’s songwriting had become increasingly sophisticated, and the group’s musicianship had improved tenfold, with imaginative arrangements whose roots had spread from the garage to fully embrace psychedelia and bluesy folk-rock influenced by the San Francisco sound, with the addition of organist Karen Luther giving the band a spooky, Doorsy vibe at times.
But it’s Nancy’s prickly spirit combined with her gift for a memorable, sugar sweet vocal melody that elevate the likes of “Outta Reach” and “Feel Like Giving Up” to minor classic status, deserving of far more than their current cult following. Trimming six extraneous cuts from their 1999 CD for this first ever vinyl release (on pink vinyl), Ace Records have turned a pretty good garage artefact into something essential – a textbook example of less is more.
The new, vinyl version (as well as the original CD) is available here (UK/EU), and here (US).
19 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Maggie Danna
Kevin Parker takes Tame Impala’s sound in a new direction with "Currents", embracing disco and soulful electronica. As each of the four singles (“Let It Happen”, “‘Cause I’m A Man”, “Eventually”, and “Disciples”) was released this spring, it became apparent that Parker was doing something significantly different, and truly spectacular. While his transition to ethereal dance music caused concern for some enthusiasts of the band’s earlier, rock-based sound, "Currents" actually contains some of the band's best music so far. In “Yes I’m Changing” Parker invites the listener to take part in the metamorphosis; “Yes I'm changing, yes I'm gone/Yes I'm older, yes I'm moving on/And if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along, with me.”
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Parker stated that he was significantly influenced by the Bee Gees while listening to “Staying Alive”, explaining, “The beat felt overwhelmingly strong and, at that moment, it sounded pretty psychedelic. It moved me, and that’s what I always want out of psych music. I want it to transport me.” This is exactly what psychedelic music should do, and what makes Tame Impala’s sound so powerful. It is extremely successful in grabbing your attention, drawing you in, and seriously moving you.
Introspection and the continually fluctuating dynamics of oneself are major themes in "Currents", though this is not an album based on, or intended for solitude in the way that "Innerspeaker" and "Lonerism" were. "Innerspeaker", Tame Impala’s first LP, hinged upon seclusion and the celebration of introversion, summed up in the title of “Solitude Is Bliss” and its triumphant line, “There’s a party in my head and no one is invited”, while "Lonerism" focused on the often distressing sensation of being an outsider. "Currents" on the other hand is an album you could play on the dance floor without it emptying out, though the lyrics continue to be highly melancholy. In "Currents", introverted Kevin makes music equally well suited for introverts and extroverts alike. This album has the potential to open Tame Impala up to a much larger audience.
The highlight of the album for me, is the opener, “Let It Happen”, which is incredibly catchy and transformative and has been making many “best tracks of 2015” lists already. Its mantra-like quality strongly parallels “Be Above It”. In both songs Kevin confronts his anxiety, urging himself to persevere through life’s struggles, though “Be Above It” is more defiant while “Let It Happen” accepts change and goes with it. “Let It Happen” is nearly eight minutes of ebbs and flows through meditative synths and disco funk. The stuck CD effect in the middle catches the listeners’ attention, briefly putting them on edge, and causing a pang of nostalgia; just like the classic broken record skip, CDs and their malfunctions are sadly on their way to becoming objects of the past. I’ve been listening to “Let It Happen” over and over since it came out this March, and like it increasingly more with each listen. It covers so many emotions; joy, uncertainty, sorrow; and can be empowering regardless of your mood.
“The Moment” is also quite mantra-like. Though very different lyrically and in intensity, it has a beat similar to “Elephant”, just more toned down. The reverb in “The Moment” is also spectacularly effective. “Eventually” laments a failed relationship of some sort, longing to be only strangers again and hoping everyone will feel alright in the end. It’s slow and drawn-out, both sorrowful and hesitantly optimistic about the future. “‘Cause I’m A Man” is simple and satisfyingly catchy; it’s the sort of song you could easily sing along to, and a perfect song for summer. Even as one of the simpler songs on the album, it’s deeply complex, with numerous layers of background synths and impressive percussion, as well as a soaring guitar break towards the end, creating a highly textured and glorious wall of sound.
Tame Impala could easily have made another album like "Lonerism", which was adored by both critics and fans, and it would have been guaranteed to go over well. Taking a different route with "Currents" further proves Kevin’s song writing skills and pure talent. I truly believe we’ll look back on him in the future with the same respect we do Syd Barrett, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and other psych rock idols. Another plus about the change in Tame Impala’s sound is that people will hopefully stop suggesting that the band is an emulation of classic 1960s psychedelia, from which they’ve always differed significantly thanks to their tremendous innovation. Though noticeably less traditionally lysergic than their earlier releases, this latest album is no less psychedelic, and numerous sonic elements of previous Tame Impala releases continue: the reverb, beautiful falsetto, incredible transitions and layers, and simple yet highly contemplative lyrics. "Currents" is smoother than its predecessors, as it’s centered more around synths than fuzzy guitars, and the frequent use of synthesizers also fits Parker’s falsetto incredibly well. The falsetto in “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” in particular is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Each of Tame Impala’s three full-length albums so far has its own unique and absolutely incredible vibe; it has been exhilarating to watch the band evolve over the years. From the rock and roll-driven sound of "Innerspeaker" (and their self-titled EP), to the space pop of "Lonerism", and now the dreamy disco of "Currents", Tame Impala always delivers a very distinct sound. Being a young musician, still climbing to the peak of his career, it will be incredibly exciting to watch Kevin and the band continue to grow. Tame Impala’s sound is unique, and their ability to change styles, while still retaining the elements that made previous releases so powerful and compelling is what makes them exceptional.
"Currents" is available on CD here (UK/EU), or here (US), or on vinyl here (UK/EU), and here (US).
Reviewed by Joseph Murphy
The always forward thinking Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records delivers another impressive record; this time, it’s Sundays & Cybele’s “Heaven,” which caters in maximal dream pop and lush psych. If you’re familiar with Sundays & Cybele’s earlier work, this one’s a bit different and a bit more polished – even compared with the lauded “Gypsy House.” Hokkaido, Japan’s Sundays & Cybele have traded in the sometimes dub infused tracks (there’s an excellent dub remix of “Gypsy House” out there) and acoustic guitars for motorik dream pop landscapes and wild electric noise. The result is, in many ways, a continuation of what they started with 2012’s “Gypsy House” (which was re-mastered and released this year by Guruguru Brain) but, here, the songs reach even further, channeling some interesting punk aesthetics and new found, far out there guitar leads.
“Black Rainbow” introduces listeners to a build of sound that, for most bands, signals the end of a set but, in this case, initiates new comers to the quality of their sound: it’s all done with a dream pop flourish but played with ambition usually not attributed to the genre. As “Black Rainbow” continues, the band continues the trend of maximalism in their guitar leads while the rhythm section falls into a motorik jam that recalls Neu!
“Empty Seas” unfolds a catchy and immediately classic sound from its initial squelch of dripping guitars and continues to build toward a driving chorus. As it is throughout the entire album, the mix is great, balancing the steady, clear bass notes and percussion with sonic slabs of guitar and slightly delayed vocals (Japanese language, for those wondering). Unlike “Black Rainbow,” “Empty Seas” relies upon a punk ideal rather than lush progressions.
This is a diverse record that consistently challenged expectations, swaying from Krautrock to punk to – for lack of a better way of putting it – a psych ballad. While eclectic, it’s consistently interesting and measured in its arrangements, whether relying on a natural wall of feedback or glimmering wah. “Heaven” is ready for digital or limited cassette pre-order below on Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records’ Bandcamp page below.
17 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Josh Robertson
If you've ever dabbled in out-of-its-time outsider psychedelia, there's a good chance you've heard and enjoyed this album already. And if you've never heard Michael Angelo Nigro's self titled 1977 classic private press album, now is the perfect time to make your introductions.
This is an album that has been analyzed and reviewed so much, that it's becoming a little trendy to state that it's over rated. But you can't believe everything you read online, and it's best to let your ears make their own judgements in the end. And I certainly don't hear anything over rated about this. Michael Angelo was a much more accomplished songwriter and player than most, especially for a studio musician. The album was recorded during off hours at Liberty in Kansas City, and while simple and bare, it has a charm that shines through, instead of the rushed feeling it should have, considering the circumstances of its creation.
It's full of hooks, ringing Byrdsian-West Coast Fender guitars, eerie synths, and Chris Bell/Big Star guitar solos. We start off kicking with "Flights of Pegasus" which twists and turns through major and minor modes in a psychedelic flux that I just eat up. "Oceans of Fantasy" features a tom-roll drum/pinch harmonics guitar intro that sounds JUST like something from the coming decades by so many indie/pop rock groups. The reverbed lead guitar in between the verses, the repeating hook....yeah, I was shocked when I heard it. It sounded so familiar, and not even really that retro. Influential much?
And let me mention as well, the introspective, but positive lyrics and encourage the search for one's self; yet they have a slightly sardonic quality, as on "Checkout" and "Bon Jour Mr. VIP". They look respectively, at the topics of suicide, and the music industry, but it don't come off as morbid or cheeky. And the melody on “Checkout” is eat your heart out good. Like McCartney, or better yet, Emitt Rhodes. It's all wrapped up by "Future" which sounds just like early REM or the dB's would in the near future, thanks to its intro licks, but when the song fully kicks it is all Michael Angelo, featuring some 60s psych overtones. Think a West Coast amalgam with strange eastern-sounding scales and overdriven Fender to round out the middle break. Top notch stuff right here.
Michael Angelo Nigro sounded like nobody else, and for the time he strikes me as being on a whole timeless kick. He was undoubtedly a step ahead of the growth that began to take effect in the East Coast indie scene in the early 1980s. He sounds like nobody else, yet wears the influences of certain familiars on his sleeve. There's a reason that scummy record snakes bootlegged this down to exact copies, it really is an enticing listen (and investment-worthy).
There is really no better time for Anthology Recordings to put this re-issue out, it's available from their website on LP with a bonus "7 or CD/MP3. It’s from an original vinyl copy, and sounds excellent compared to the average needledrop's that have previously been released, with no noise-reduction. This is more like it, it sounds great. I don't need to tell you how good it is, as the press it's gotten lately has been quite amazing. You get a real feel for what was going on behind locked doors in the studio late in the morning, early at night, whenever there was a free slot.
One of the original indie-fi classics finally has its chance to emerge out of the shadows. It's only a matter of time until its popularity soars.
CD available here (UK/EU), and here (US). Vinyl available here (UK/EU), and here (US).
16 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)
Entering the fifth decade of his musical career, the undeservedly obscure English poet and songwriter, Martin Newell is showing no signs of slowing down.
In the last 5 years alone, the home taping pioneer has released albums and EPs under both his own name, and under his nom du band, The Cleaners From Venus. It’s an output matched perhaps only by Robert Pollard for sheer quantity. But I think that the consistency of the Englishman has remained at a higher level than that of his Ohio counterpart.
And that brings us to this 24-track collection, a sort of 'best of the last 5 years'.
The bulk of "Teatime Assortment" contains material released on the most-recent Cleaners From Venus albums: "English Electric" (2010), "In Chimp World" (2011), and "The Late District" (2012). With 4 previously unreleased songs included just to irk the fans who already bought the albums. But more on that later.
Newell sings in what can only be referred to as an English drawl, lingering over words and phrases as if he is reluctant to let go of each one. It’s an affecting delivery that makes Martin come off as something akin to Robyn Hitchcock’s country cousin.
“Wake Up and Dream,” from "English Electric", opens the collection with guitars that chime and sparkle like morning bells announcing the beginning of a new day. Martin calls out the title phrase, sounding like an old(e) town crier. It’s a fitting album opener and, as a song, just charming as hell, as pretty much every Newell song is.
The new tracks are every bit as good as the rest of the material and could have easily been slipped onto any of the albums from which the bulk of this collection was culled. “Shabby Heart” casts Martin as an aging idealist, watching with bemusement, as self-important Rock Stars sing about changing the world. “You may bang on your drum, that the revolution has to come, But you’d all go running back to mum, should it ever start.”
Taken out of context, the lyric reads like he’s calling out big, idealistic 'Change The World' rock stars (U2?) on their bullshit. But Martin delivers it as if you were sitting next to him, in his living room, as he tells you (and only you) about how he sees the world. It’s one of Martin’s particular gifts. He’s just a storyteller, telling his stories.
There is not a dud to be found in the collection and, for folks who are curious about Martin and his new material and don’t want to go all-in just yet, "Teatime Assortment" is an excellent purchase.
For fans who already own the albums, it’s a frustrating release—having to buy 20 songs we already own to get 4 new ones. Hopefully he will eventually decide to do the sensible thing and put those new tunes on their own EP.
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
Here's a downloadable sample of what to expect:
9 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Tom Sandford
Last fall, Ugly Things Magazine posted an online plea for letters of encouragement for Pretty Things visionary main-man, Phil May. The post was direct, cut-to-the-chase honest – and exceedingly ominous. It said that May had been suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and “need[s] to give up drinking and especially smoking urgently and immediately.” I remember being shocked by the look of the words “urgently” and “immediately”, and immediately penned what was I’m sure a heartfelt, gushingly awkward fan letter; one that Ugly Things promised to forward to Phil. “Those closest to him,” the UT plea went on, “believe the best chance he has of doing this is to turn his lifestyle around, and immerse himself again in art, music and writing.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Pretty Things’ music. Always rock’s cleverest chameleons, they reinvented themselves time and again – with the uncanny ability to land on their creative feet. Over the next 50 years, what began as a gritty R&B combo had embraced everything from Baroque pop ("Emotions") to psychedelic rock opera ("S.F. Sorrow") and 70s glam ("Freeway Madness") – even a convincing flirtation with New Wave with 1980’s "Cross Talk" – with equal aplomb. Through all of these changes – in membership and musical landscape – Phil May has remained the one constant. He is the poet, artist, storyteller and, quite literally, the voice of the Pretty Things.
I did not hear any further news about May’s condition, and hoped that no news was good news. And with the February 2015 release of a career-spanning box set "Bouquets From a Cloudy Sky" speaking rather eloquently vis-à-vis the legacy of the band, one could have forgiven May for laying low this year, both to recover from his illness and soak up the well-deserved accolades. So it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to learn that the newest edition of the Pretties (only May and guitarist Dick Taylor remain from the original incarnation) had released a new album.
It would have been so much simpler to release the box set and call it a career, with everything from the band’s inception through 2007’s "Balboa Island" tied up in one nice Pretties package, reputation intact, un-futzed-with. Except there’s never been anything nice, neat and clean about the Pretty Things, and from the opening guitar assault in “The Same Sun” to the final track (fittingly entitled “Dirty Song”), you know it’s going to be a thrilling experience.
The disease from which May suffers, COPD, robs its sufferer of breath, so it comes as a great relief to hear him singing above the beautiful din with such vigour. Indeed, he and Taylor sound rejuvenated and fully committed to the material. This isn’t some opportunistic, cynical reunion of past members with could-be-anybody filler musicians aiming to capitalize on the success of "Bouquets From a Cloudy Sky". No, what this is, is the historically pivotal pair from the Pretty Things – Phil May and Dick Taylor – ably augmented by well-chosen latter-day members (Frank Holland, keys; George Woosey, bass; and explosive new drummer Jack Greenwood) – sounding as tough, vital and uncompromising as they ever did.
At a crisp 37 minutes, the album hits you and is suddenly gone. In its wake it leaves memorable melodies (“Dark Days”), some piercing guitar work from Taylor (“And I Do”, “Greenwood Tree”) and a dignified take on one of the Byrds’ best (“Renaissance Fair”). They even manage to dash off a quick postcard from the Middle East (“In the Soukh”).
In light of May’s illness, it was a tremendously moving experience to hear this bracing new record for the first time. I did not receive a response from Phil to my letter of encouragement, but it seems to me that "The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course)" constitutes fierce, unequivocal assurance that Phil May is, once again, immersing himself in art, music and writing.
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
"Big Ones" by Aerosmith was the first album I bought with my own money. The first album I really loved was Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds. My dad taped it for me when I was young, and I would just listen to it over and over again. It's safe to say that had a far bigger impact on Polypores than Aerosmith. It's music with atmosphere, telling a story. I loved that. It's always stayed with me.
What was the last record you bought?
Vic Mars - Curriculum For Schools And Colleges Volume 2. It's like going back in time to your very first science lessons.
What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I am at least partially responsible for the audio recording/production of a good number of television adverts in the UK.
If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Nick Cave. His words are better than anyone else's words. I'd love to provide some weird shit for him to sing on top of. Also, I've noticed Mark Lanegan is getting remixed by a lot of dark electronic artists recently. If you're reading this Lanegan, get in touch. I met you once at Lancaster Library and told you a shocking anecdote.
Who should we be listening to right now?
You should be listening to Nurse Predator. It's actually a colleague and friend of mine. He recorded all this music years and years ago, but it's never seen the light of The Internet, until a few weeks ago. His stuff needs to be heard because it's brilliant, and way ahead of it's time. Bear in mind this was all made before people started making music with computers.
Those who decide to buy it may notice that the Paypal payment goes to me. This is because I set up the Bandcamp page for him, as he has far better things to do than set up Bandcamp pages. Be assured that I transfer all the money to him. This is not a scam on my part.
Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
There's no reason to limit yourself to one format. It's great that vinyl and cassette purchases have started coming with a digital download as well. That way you get the best of both worlds.
I walk and commute a lot so a lot of my listening is done by MP3, but I am a sucker for a hard copy. I'm 33, so I still remember and cherish that excitement.
Tell us about your latest release.
The Edgewoods EP. I read this fantastic book called "Edgelands" by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley. It's a sort of exploration of those weird non-places that are neither urban nor rural. Somewhere in between. Around the time I read that I was walking round a lot in these kinds of places, taking photos, making notes. That was what inspired the music. The way I tend to work is, I will collect a series of words, photos, concepts, and mental images. Then base the music around that. Edgelands was my starting point, then I ran with that and let my imagination take over.
I ended up with about 20 tracks. But I'd released an album about 2 months previous and I figured another album after that would be too soon. So I tried to edit it down to an EP. I was still left with 10 tracks, so I put 6 on the EP and kept 4 as bonus tracks, which people get if they pay for the download.
It probably took as long to decide on which tracks to include as it took to write and record the album. I thought they were all good!
What's next for you, musically?
Hmm, where to start? I will try to sum this up as best as I can:
I am going to be releasing an album through an independent tape label. We are currently discussing how it will all work. I am in the "research" phase of the album. As I mentioned above, collecting ideas, pictures etc. At the moment the vibe is looking sinister but rural. There is a lot of plant matter. I am picturing a hill covered in thick forest with a clearing on top. In the middle of the clearing there is a tower. Some kind of old radio transmitter. Or perhaps a searchlight. Sprouting from the ground around the base of the tower are hundreds of human hands. Does that help sum it up?
I am working on a live set. This is new to me, and it involves simplifying a lot of things, rather than trying to make it sound exactly like the recorded versions. But it's also opening up whole new avenues in terms of ways of writing, and improvisation. I won't be using a computer, it will be all hardware. I will be using tape players and loop pedals as primitive samplers. I love finding new ways to write, and this is no exception. I think a lot of this way of writing will inform the new album.
I am working on a collaboration with the man responsible for The Hatcliffe House Tapes. It has taken me a long time to do my parts, as I did them and then hated them within a week so scrapped them. Then I ended up recording/producing an album for another band, which became a priority for now. But I will get it done soon. If you're reading this John, I am sorry for the delay. I will send something soon!
I will be doing a remix for a band called Fighting. They have a sort of Death From Above 1979-meets-Post-Punk sound. I intend to warp that beyond recognition.
I will be doing another remix for a very evil band but I'm not sure I'm allowed to reveal that yet. I have seen their new album artwork and it is really really genuinely evil. Like, Wicker Man evil.
I will also be having one of the tracks from my last album The Investigation remixed by a guy called Impulse Array, who makes this vast deep-space techno. I'm looking forward to hearing what Polypores sounds like out of orbit.
I am providing the voice of a robot on a concept album a friend of mine is making. It's a concept album about a robot.
What's for dinner?
I'm not comfortable with that question.
Labels: Nine Questions
8 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Scotland's Michael Begg has provided several of the last decade's key musical moments both as a solo artist and under the guise of Human Greed alongside artist Deryk Thomas; works such as 'World Fair', 'Black Hill; Midnight At The Blighted Star' and 'Omega' stand out as ambitious, hugely moving and carefully crafted pieces that have included cameo appearances from the esteemed likes of David Tibet (Current 93), Chris Connelly (Ministry), Julia Kent (Antony And The Johnstons) and Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex, Mike Oldfield and Mellow Candle). A true visionary, Begg has quietly developed his own unique and affecting compositional style and sound; indeed his work is genuinely and startlingly original in a world filled with musical copyists and humdrum 'alternative' acts. He is also a stellar live performer and his rare concert appearances should not be missed. With the release of 'Hivernant', his eighth album, Begg describes his methodology following a period painting in the wilds of Scotland; 'I sketched notes about silence, about space and place, music and recording. I took one step to the side and listened to the time rush by. I applied the same light touch to the studio. I sketched. It was enough. I somehow, briefly, removed ambition and purpose and found, in the winter, a moment of repose. I now feel like some little winter animal, a hivernant, arising from sleep'.
The album begins with 'The Garden (apres Part)', field recordings of birdsong gradually and gently merging with a metallic shimmering drone and unearthly rumble. A delicate and mournful piano piece emerges and floats under the waves of spectral drones, the whole piece seamlessly drifting into the haunted choirs of 'Da Pacem'. Hugely affecting and with a tangible, beautiful melancholy the track layers and builds, ominous bass notes washing through the ghostly haze. Begg is undoubtedly one the UK's foremost composers, very few others can command such musical and emotional power (only contemporaries Richard Moult and Richard Skelton come to mind). The piece twists, emerging strings and woodwind adding tension and a brooding, glistening sheen. There is something of nature in this recording; Begg's recent forays into the wilds of East Lothian in order to paint may well have seeped into the album's skin; if encroaching dusk had a sound it may well resemble this , a skyscape of darkening colours and moods. Next, 'Improvisation' is a warmer, piano led piece of reflection, strings dancing in the shadows behind the notes. A strong sense of solitariness and being far from the bustle of the world is invoked; this music is contemplative and occupies emptier, wilder and more barren and landscapes.
'Psalom' begins with choral voices and a glassy, shivering drone that drifts out of the dark into consciousness. A crackle and hum with the distant sound of drums slowly develops, underpinning the glacial sadness and grace. Should Werner Herzog ever wish to employ a new regular soundtrack contributor in the manner he did with Popol Vuh, look no further. Church organ emerges, the track now layering and building with a feeling of dread, awe and of something deeply sacred filling the sound. Gradually the composite parts recede, leaving a reverberating echo in their wake. 'Pastorale (apres Schnittke)' shudders with what sounds like the buzz of one hundred cellos playing at once until quiet descends and glistening piano notes paint a gorgeously simple and sad refrain. Ominous echoes and winds pass by yet the stately and defiant melody remains, shimmering and graceful.
'Nana' starts with a deep well of strings, organ drones and a sprinkle of chimes before backwards tapes and percussion joins and a feeling of electronic unease permeates. None of the music herein is in a rush to go anywhere; it unfolds, it develops and is all the more effective for this. This is an album that must be listened to with attention, care and involvement; it is not background music. 'Therobo's sorrowful guitar plucks and oboe lead into an organ based lament that is heartbreakingly lovely, an elegy to the dying moments of a day, a year or a precious moment in time. 'Return To The Fortress' (Human Greed's catalogue includes the previous 'Fortress Longing' album) contains what sounds like the wail of a Tibetan thighbone, electronic chirrups and sparkles hovering around waves of strings and an air of windswept solitude. Finally, 'Ameland et Amsterdam' closes the album with the sound of wind amongst metal and glass objects, the buzz of birds in flight cascading overhead. It is a suitably atmospheric and nature tinged end to a deeply impressive, emotive and contemplative work.
I cannot recommend both this album and Human Greed/ Begg's discography highly enough. These recordings are hidden vaults that, once opened, will soundtrack your days and nights with beauty, longing, melancholy, grace and joy. Trust me, awaken the hivernant within you.
Available through the Bandcamp link below as a very limited CD edition or as a download.
7 Jul 2015
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Following on from last week’s Gear Fab exploitation twofer is another wee gem from them, released at the same time. More exploito goodies here, with another two surprisingly consistent albums paired together.
Taking up the first half of this disc is 1967’s “Flipout: Powers of Blue”, a slapped together garage fuzz gem that is so obscure that it’s not immediately apparent whether one of the above is the ‘band’ name, or whether it’s simply a double barrelled title. Such trivialities are unimportant once the fuzz is warmed up though, as this one is a garage scorcher through and through. Arranged by Hugh McCracken (whose original “You Blow My Mind” is the highlight here, beating out some very familiar big names), this session is fully instrumental with a supple rhythm section propelling things along nicely. The vocal melodies are transposed onto some lovely sounding vintage fuzz guitar lines, often accompanied by a chiming electric twelve string. Not much to say about this one, except that it’s very much worth your time, and the clever multi-guitar arrangement of “Bang Bang” is a real winner, with an accompaniment that flirts not only with the desolate west, but also a hint of spy jazz.
Brother T. and the Family bring up the rear here, with their album “Drillin’ of the Rock”. Rather than a cobbled together group of session musicians though, Brother T. and the Family is yet another early version of Lucifer’s Friend, who we’ve also covered recently as Asterix and Electric Food. And there’s a thematic unity here which is unusual for an exploitation release, with “Drillin’ of the Rock” consisting entirely of startling rearrangements of traditional songs, most of which are completely unrecognisable except for their lyrics.
Under the influence of the U.K’s concurrent proto-prog / hard rock scene, familiar faves like “Barbara Allen” (here retitled “Lookin’ For Barbara”) and “Wayfaring Stranger” (“Stranger”) are twisted into totally unfamiliar shapes, with plenty of Hammond organ, and some great bluesy guitar work. Even a hoary old chestnut like “Jim Crack Corn” gets the treatment and comes up smelling like roses – in fact, it’s one of the highlights here. There are plenty of hooks – both vocal and instrumental – on display throughout “Drillin’ of the Rock” too, suggesting that this was more than the throwaway, spontaneous release than you’d expect given its origins. There’s only one misstep, the baffling Elvis-fronting-Procol-Harum tribute / spoof of “Third Degree”, but otherwise this is top tier early hard rock of the highest calibre.
Fans of U.K acts like Woody Kern, Atomic Rooster and the likes will be in for a very pleasant surprise here. An odd pairing of albums stylistically, but both offer plenty of highs.
Reviewed by Hills Snyder
A number of people have walked off to look for America. Some have even taken a horse drawn stage from Monterey. The Milk Carton Kids might be here to remind us that America* is harder than ever to find, but beneath our feet (and our wheels) no less.
The new album, "Monterey", is a road movie. Indeed, the first line of the title song is "I can hear the road call." From there the songs move through Los Angeles, Tuscaloosa, Asheville…other places, places without names or names forgotten.
I'm writing not far from the Grand Coulee Dam, a good reason to have the album cover, a Tonalist photograph of Niagara Falls, on the seat of the truck beside me. And see? --- all it takes is one line to go from one end of the country to the other, especially if you're driving and listening to these songs. As singers of, and contributors to the Great American Song, the Kids seem to stride more than walk, taking long, significant, seven-league steps, even though, with their voices blending into one, they're just "a little man from a little town."
The album was even recorded on the road --- in various churches, museums and concert halls in North America, and like Niagara Falls, these places are found on both sides of the northern border between the United States and Canada.
Anyway, they've always been cinematic --- "keep your hands where I can see them" from the song "Michigan" on a previous album --- is spoken to an ex lover, but borrowed from the Manifest Destiny lexicon of John Ford (not only do I own this prairie, but I own your hands). And the line is given a new twist when quoted by someone playing a guitar, but the movie connection is the overwhelming association with such a ubiquitous line.
Further into the title song they sing "I can see the north star from this bed," suggesting quiet repose or perhaps a feeling of regret beckoning directional hope, a wish sent up to Polaris, the one seemingly stationary thing in the sky. And then past that window, another portal, the milky way, offering rescue to "the night betrayed" as rain clouds are summoned. The clouds provide a ceiling of containment reflecting sound back to earth. This and their foreboding ensure someone will hear how loudly the songs are heard. That ceiling recurs in another song, "staring at the ceiling above like it contained the secrets of the stars" and throughout the album, the silence, mystery and remoteness of the sky repeatedly hangs over the uncertainty of life's realities on the ground. The notion of rescue and sanctuary or the lack of them comes up repeatedly also, such as in songs like "Getaway" and "Sing Sparrow Sing", but these are not really themes or motifs ---the songs are too intuitive for that sort of interpretation.
This encapsulates what they do --- besides the sublime harmonies and nuanced guitars --- they keep things rooted in the ground of human emotions, the furniture of everyday life, even a bed, even the loss of hope, but always feelings pinned at the point of a larger vector opening out to whatever is out there. In "The City of Our Lady", which sounds like it was written on a train, "history is hanging as a picture in a frame" and a crying infant, its mortal tongue awake, becomes the voice of passing humanity. The long and large panorama of life hinging on a little song.
That once-upon-a-time national anthem, "My Country 'Tis of Thee", has been updated a number of times, including an 1840s abolitionist satire. In this context "Freedom" is offered up, a war weary song in which "ev'ry mountainside" is replaced by screams and gun shots and freedom has become daylight stolen from the sun --- such a fine metaphor, and one of many that these guys sing freely.
The album closes with "Poison Tree", in which a yearning for the dissipation of anger hopes a "little drop" of poison won't grow full blown into William Blake's bright, deadly, apple of revenge. But this song is humble and like the rest of the album, though strung with melancholia and somber tones, is ultimately not a downer. How could it be? They take such pleasure in playing and singing and they do it so well. We are lucky to have them.
* I happened to be finishing this up as the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage was reached, so hope rises.
Available here (UK/EU) or here (US).