Thursday, 23 May 2013
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
The debut E.P by Heaven's Gateway Drugs caused a quite a stir here at Active Listener HQ, resulting in an unhealthy level of singlemindedness that I'd only just managed to claw my way out of when "You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs", their debut full length found it's way into my inbox. Oh well, time for a relapse.
Granted, all this new fangled psychedelia is still a bit of a niche genre that's a little confusing to the public at large and often viewed with suspicion and scepticism by certain music critics who accuse it's practitioners of flogging a dead horse, but Heaven's Gateway Drugs have a more wide reaching appeal than the majority of their contemporaries.
There are a number of factors you can point to for this. They write memorable songs with big choruses, have a particularly diverse set of active influences (by which I mean influences that can be heard in their own music) and they're not afraid to amp up the production values without resorting to the radio sheen or formulaic songwriting machine fodder that this often goes hand and hand with.
Cleverly combining the trippy psychedelic organ textures of the likes of "Army Coat" with ear tugging choruses that (presumably) betray an apprenticeship listening to early nineties alternative rock, "You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs" is the sort of album which is perfectly geared to be an evangelical tool for those wanting to spread the new psychedelic gospel. We've all got one of those friends who frustrate the bejesus out of us by insisting that an album like Live's "Throwing Copper" is THE last great album. Even that guy will love this. What about that other friend who wishes Perry Farrell had stuck it out in Jane's Addiction for another twenty years? Yep, they're gonna love it too. In fact it's pretty hard to imagine anyone taking exception to Heaven's Gateway Drugs. They've certainly got everything a psych fiend could wish for; stacks of reverb, sitars, drones, trippy keyboards, the lot, but these elements are always used in service of the song, and never for the sake of novelty.
It's not often that a band in a niche like psychedelia comes along with this much crossover potential, and it's very nice to see that Tame Impala aren't an isolated incident. Get this on the radio, and these guys could be huge. Start spreading the news.
Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Sweden's Crusher Records are quickly becoming my first and last stop when it comes to retro seventies style rock, with fine releases by Dean Allen Foyd and Spiders under their belt.
You can now add Vidunder's self titled debut to that impressive list, an excellent example of blues based 70s style occult rock which will make fans of Witchcraft, Graveyard and Kadavar very, very happy indeed.
Granted there's a lot of this stuff around at the moment, but it's rare for a "revival" scene to offer up as many gems as the recent 70s occult revival has - I'd rate Witchcraft's albums especially as highly as the albums they're inspired by.
Which brings me to Vidunder's debut, which may not scale the heights of Witchcraft's second album "Firewood", but in this listener's opinion trumps their debut hands down.
There's all sorts of tags you can associate with this sort of stuff ; stoner rock, proto-doom etc, but all conjure images of a more hamfisted approach than you'll find evidence of here.
Vidunder display a level of instrumental finesse that's unusual for occult rock, recalling the more challenging time signatures of the likes of Captain Beyond or Black Widow just as readily as the diabolical riffery of Black Sabbath.
It helps too that they tone back the distortion and sound like they excusively use vintage gear, giving this a mysterious, sinister air not to mention the authentic period feel of a rediscovered late sixties Vertigo gem.
Martin Prim's guitar work is the highlight here for me - key for a three piece, he has an innate understanding of when to be riffy and when to play in a more textural fashion - not to mention some surprisingly subtle lead work.
Monday, 20 May 2013
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Steve Somerset and his Shadow Kabinet are already a proven element when it comes to quality Beatlesque power-pop so it's no surprise that "Nostalgia for the Future" is very, very enjoyable indeed.
Previous efforts by the Kabinet, especially "Smiling World's Apart" (bit of a classic that one) have been quality affairs no doubt, but "Nostalgia for the Future" is a definite step forward and sees Somerset further developing his own songwriting voice, as well as widening his net of influences.
There are still moments of wide eyed Beatlesque wonder (particularly on the gorgeously melodic closer "Let It Go"), but for the most part Somerset has resisted the urge to throw in the kitchen sink in favor of a more understated approach that allows these song's inner light to shine of their own accord, no bells and whistles necessary.
This toned down approach makes "Nostalgia for the Future" feel like the next logical step in Somerset's evolution. Leaving the kaleidoscopic days of the late sixties behind he's taken the first step into the solo phase that many of his idols entered when their band's crumbled in the early seventies, but has retained his playfulness and wicked sense of humor, ensuring that this doesn't come across like some po-faced singer songwriter album that sounds like it'd be sleeved with a photo of the artist sitting in a field, gazing meaningfully at something deeply important just off camera.
As fond as I was of Somerset's sixties stylings (which are still sporadically highlighted), stepping into the seventies has done the Kabinet no harm whatsoever, especially when they go all "Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 11" on "Dust Descends as Light", or cheekily evoke the Police on "Ladder to the Moon".
You could argue that best of all are the sparsely adorned ballads "Honey Glow Afternoon" and "Nostalgia for the Future" which suggest that all Somerset really needs is an acoustic guitar and a tune to shine, but truth is everything he touches here turns to gold.
Essential for fans of George Harrison, Hunky Dory era Bowie and Pugwash.
Have a listen to Steve's podcast about the album here:
Sunday, 19 May 2013
Reviewed by Renato Miccio
Congratulations to our prizewinner and guest reviewer Renato Miccio, whose short but sweet review of The PeΔrls E.P pretty much summed up what we think about it too! Your copy of the vinyl is on it's way to you now.
Here's Renato's review:
Milan's latest super duo The PeΔrls have created a quality debut with their self titled E.P which mixes the sweet hipster pop of popular new U.S bands like Best Coast with a dirty, lo-fi garage production that works perfectly.
Short pearls of euphoric pop joy delivered with muscle and authority, that bring to mind bands as different as the Vaselines and the B-52s.
I first heard "Be In One" on the Active Listener Sampler (here) and have been a big fan since - the other seven tracks here have no problem matching that quality - the hooky "Walking" and heavily flanged "Elephant" standing out.
There's plenty of reverb and flanging among the garagey production to keep the sound diverse, and along with the upbeat nature of The PeΔrls E.P leaves me no doubt that I'll be listening to this for a longtime.
Listen / download / buy here :
Who likes the Wicked Whispers?
We do, that's who, and we've got a signed copy of their newest 7" "Voodoo Moon" to give away.
To be in to win all you need to do is send us an e-mail with the header 'wicked whispers" to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what English city they're from (you can find out in this review if you don't know), as well as your postal address.
I'll randomly choose a winner some time next week.
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
David Warner's portrayal of the fish and chip shop owning, gorilla obsessed Marxist Morgan Delt was pretty out there stuff for 1966, certainly enough so to catch the attention of a young Patsy Ann McClenny who decided Morgan Fairchild would be a name far more likely to bring her acclaim.
While things may not have quite come up roses for Patsy, that hasn't stopped this mysterious Topanga Canyon project from claiming a similar moniker.
I say project because I have no idea whether Morgan Delt is a pseudonym for a bedroom artist, the work of a band, or the real name of someone whose parents frequented a lot of anarchist cinema in the late sixties.
Mystery aside though, "Psychic Death Hole" is a pretty sterling first effort, that carefully balances irresistible hooks with just the right amount of tape manipulation and freaky deaky weirdness. This is deeply psychedelic stuff, but with a melodic core that will not be denied.
The diversity of recent Flaming Lips releases is certainly brought to mind, but ultimately Morgan Delt is in his (their?) own field with this odd, and extremely appealing bastardisation of psychedelia, tropicalia, krautrock, space rock and occasionally stoner rock.
"Barbarian Kings" is the immediate highlight, with it's sweet, vaguely eastern melody cloaked in hazy layers of shimmering psychedelia, but there's plenty more gold in them hills, so I'd advise you to keep digging.
Repeated immersion reveals many pleasures to be had, in particular the melancholy "Sad Sad Trip" with it's appealing "ba'ba'ba's" fighting for supremacy amongst a sea of kooky squiggles, while the splendidly titled "Backwards Bird Inc." rides a snaky guitar riff into a sunset both exotic, and terrifying.
Epic closer "Galactic Grids" is an even more sinister prospect - a monolithic space-dirge that transposes the evil syncopations of early Sabbath with the most disorientating of Hawkwind's interstellar trips.
Varied? Yes. Challenging? At times. Worth the effort? Oh yes.
Available on cassette or digital through the bandcamp link below.
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Reviewed by Jason Simpson
"A Model Life" is a shining monorail holo-cruise through quiet island villages, the (American) wild west, seventies spy thrillers and ultimately... Outer Space.
Roman Bezdyk accomplishes this by weaving a deft and dense tapestry of hip-hop, easy-listening and psychedelia that leaves the listener guessing what is real and what is sampled; an uncanny listening experience that you have to succumb to. Just kick back in your lush, plush recliner and gaze out the window, as wild & unfamiliar scenarios flit across your brain pan.
'Witchcraft & Pornography' and 'Fear And Happiness' serve as the launching pad, bookending the album - the point of departure. Hendrix riffs and a Dirty South beat reminding us, "Fear not. It's only a ride." Once you settle into this ride, The Sone Institute takes you on a breakneck journey through nearly every genre imaginable, while sturdy hip-hop beats tie the animatronic proceedings together, rooting it firmly in the present. This pancultural polygenre is a tricky business to pull off successfully. If you screw one of them up, you fail at them all (remember acid jazz?) Thankfully, The Sone Institute's beats are tight as stretched leather and Bezdyk either
a. knows how to play a billion and one instruments
b. is one of the greatest living samplers.
Either way, the closer you look the more A Model Life draws you into its uncanny geography. Another reviewer drew issue with this record, accusing The Sone Institute of 'merely' making library or incidental music.
I have a problem with this assessment, for two reasons:
1. It supposes that there is something wrong with library music, as if it can't be listened to in terms of melody, dynamics, composition, and other aspects that have been around as long as songs have been written.
2. It doesn't really sound like library music, anyway.
True, "A Model Life" can slip into the backgrounds, around the second third of the album, but it sounds more like exotica than library music. It conjures images of tikis and moldy LPs rather than public access commercials and training films. I rather enjoy The Sone Institute recreating worldbeat easy-listening sounds and their fresh way of approaching something which might sound dated or foreign otherwise. Listening to "A Model Life" has left me yearning for Martin Denny, Astrud Gilberto and Henry Mancini spy soundtracks. Roman Bezdyk has created something special with "A Model Life", an artifact that is both classic and entirely timely.
It sounds like 2013, and also 1963.
Available digitally here, and on CD here.