18 Apr 2015

Sharron Kraus "Friends and Enemies, Lovers and Strangers"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Sharron Kraus should be a name that is familiar to all lovers of psych and modern acid folk. For the last 13 or so years she has tirelessly been releasing classic and timeless wyrd folk both under her own name and with contemporaries and friends such as United Bible Studies member Michael Tanner, Gillian Chadwick of Ex-Reverie (under the name Rusalnaia), as Traveller's Two with Fursaxa's Tara Burke and with US psych legends The Iditarod. On this, her debut for the ever splendid Clay Pipe Music, Kraus has assembled a magical collection of songs inspired by the Welsh folktale compendium The Mabinogi. Inspired by her time living in rural Wales and ably backed by Harriet Earis's harp, Nancy Wallace (of The Owl Service) on vocals and Directorsound's Nick Palmer on piano, Kraus has created an utterly spellbinding thing of beauty and wonder. As otherworldly as the folk tales that inspired the music, this is an album that demands complete, rapt attention and careful listening.

'My Friend’s Enemy' is a woodland lament; spectral harp and recorder intertwine beneath the eerie and haunting twin vocals of both Kraus and Wallace; reminiscent of such psych holy grails as Mellow Candle’s 'Swaddling Songs' and more recent masterpieces such as Espers' debut album, this is a quietly dramatic and deeply evocative work. ‘The Hunter’ is more pensive, a stately, processionary and cautionary musical tale framed with bewitching choral harmonies, bowed dulcimer and shimmering guitar. The song itself sways and shimmies as if darting between trees in some darkened woodland. Next, 'Branwen' opens with intricate acoustic guitars and veritable waterfalls of harp, its melancholy tale beautifully framed in its baroque setting. Kraus’s vocals are expressive, crystal clear and tinged with a ghostly aspect; there is something ancient and timeless in her voice as she recounts these age old stories and legends. 'A Hero's Death' adds warmth in its acoustic arpeggios and is jauntier, almost a jig, albeit a medieval sounding one.

The chamber folk that soundtracks these tales deserves special mention; perfectly and sensitively pitched and never over frilly but instead earthy and with a rough beauty. It is at once unique and also oddly familiar, as if part of some ancient collective unconscious. 'The Birds Of Rhiannon' puts the vocals of Wallace and Kraus together again to stunning effect amid a bed of recorder, chimes and organ. Majestic, mysterious and mournful the drones that underpin the song add their own unearthly air to proceedings. 'A Quiet Place' follows; a mellower and warmly introspective piece which makes effective use of the twin vocal harmonies and is propelled forward by layered, gossamer threads of harp. Curiously it reminds this listener of some of the Burning World-era Swans numbers that were performed by vocalist Jarboe. There is the same sense of beauty but also foreboding. 'Farewell’s bowed dulcimer and stately air is almost Appalachian (but then many ballads and myths travelled from the Celtic countries to the Americas), a siren’s song of loss and of the lost. It is utterly transfixing and seems to cast eyes back on a long left homeland. 'Blodeuwedd' is a delicate acid folk piece, built primarily on harp and recorder, again with an undertow of sorrow and regret but also magic. 'Stranger In Your Land' ends the album, perhaps autobiographical, certainly heartfelt and with a grandeur and grace that befits the closing of such a special and unique recording. Organ, guitar and harp wisp and whirl around Kraus’s voice, a fairy tale ending.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. As a long term admirer of Kraus’s work I have grown accustomed to a high degree of quality and ambition in each of her subsequent releases but this album in particular feels to be in a world, space and time of its own. Gather round in the dark, pull the blankets tighter, ignore the wind whistling through the trees and listen to some very old tales indeed.

Available from the splendid Clay Pipe label in a run of 500 numbered vinyl copies with download code and illustrated booklet, pre-orders began on April 13th for eventual release on the 18th May. The album also comes in a truly beautifully designed and painted sleeve by label owner Frances Castle. Clay Pipe's output always comes with a high quality of packing and artwork and this is no different.


16 Apr 2015

Editorial - Record Store Day

There's a whole lot of negative noise about Record Store Day again this year. There's no denying that the major label's cynical approach to high priced repressings of almost anything, and the inevitable flood of titles that are already appearing on eBay are downsides of a day with uniformly positive intentions.

While it's fashionable to bag RSD for these (and other) reasons, let's make the best of it, and celebrate its noble purpose. The day, after all, was set up to celebrate independent Record Stores, and we certainly haven't reached a point where these stores can get along comfortably without your support.

I openly acknowledge that independent labels are getting a rough deal at the pressing plants, because of RSD pressings by major labels, but does that mean we should boycott the day itself?  Hell, no. Why punish your local indie store(s) - if you're lucky enough to still have any - for the greed of the major labels? By doing so, you're helping to silence the independent voice of the music community, and empowering the major labels to be even more dominant.

So, visit your local independent on Saturday. Enjoy the events they have organised for you. Boycott the major label RSD releases if you want to make a statement, but buy some records from your local if and when you can afford it. Never feel bad about buying used if that's what your budget necessitates - you're getting a better deal, and the store is probably making a better margin on it. And visit some of the other 364 days of the year too, even if it's just for a chat. And if you want to support the Indie labels who are marginalised by the majors at this time of the year (as a reader of this blog, I expect that you already do), buy some records or downloads directly from them, or their artists at shows.

I hope you all have a great day on Saturday, and see it as a chance to celebrate in the proper spirit.

Charles Howl "Sir Vices"

Reviewed by Maggie Danna

Charles Howl blends driving rock and acoustic sentiments with a feel-good vibe and nostalgic dreaminess in their latest release, and first LP, "Sir Vices". Originally started as a side project of The Proper Ornaments, Charles Howl certainly stands out now with its own unique sound. Subtly psychedelic, Sir Vices contains hints of diverse genres ranging from West Coast 1960s rock and jangle pop to 1980s British rock, shoegaze, and folk. Baroque instrumentals and orchestral splendour are also prominent and certain parts of the album really remind me of Jacco Gardner, especially on the opener, “Going Down With A Hi”, and “Sky Birds Blue”.

"Sir Vices" is both laid-back, with relaxed vocals and a chilled overall feeling, and highly dynamic. Instrumental interludes and backdrops including twangy guitars, sitar, zealous riffs, and airy reverb keep the album fresh and exciting and keep listeners on their feet. “Lunacy,” one of my favourite tracks, is a perfect example of this union; it’s relaxed but also has a great beat and powerful bass riff, and even reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys with its warm energy, upbeat chorus and lively vocal harmonies, and the theme of the insanity of being in love. “I Love You 47” is more energetic and gradually incorporates a slight drone as it progresses, adding yet another style to the diverse mixture. “Sighed At Me” is my overall favourite and I actually cannot stop listening to it. It’s dreamily melancholic with a gently ebbing and flowing background of sound and a touch of falsetto. “Peace and Quiet”, verging into dream pop with its simply vocals and bright and reverbed guitar jabs, is reminiscent of Fenster, especially their album "The Pink Caves". “The New Shade” has an intense, uplifting crescendo, which along with a pick-up in tempo really shows off the invigorative power of the band.

I especially recommend Charles Howl if you like The Byrds and Love. If you enjoy "Sir Vices", check out the band’s self-titled 2013 EP as well, as it is also excellent.

Sir Vices is available here on vinyl.

14 Apr 2015

The Ar-kaics - Always the Same b/w Let Me In& The Belltowers - Here To Stay b/w Lovin You

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

This March, Market Square Records released two great 45s from The Ar-kaics’ and The Belltowers. Both releases are available for streaming on the Market Square Records bandcamp page. The Belltowers’ limited 45 is still available direct from Market Square Records and includes a digital version, but The Ar-kaics’ is down to its last few copies from 13 O'Clock Records, with Market Square's supply having already disappeared, so get in quick!

Richmond, Virginia’s The Ar-Kaics follow up their killer 2014 self-titled debut with a pair of fuzzy, garage punk tracks which continue what they started. A-side "Always the same" is a ferocious, angst-ridden take on garage punk. Drenched with feedback and a little buried, Kevin Longendyke’s voice carries the song from swaggering accusations to primal screams. It’s a topside track through and through: catchy, heartfelt, and brutal. B-side "Let Me In" plays the remedy through. Slower and moodier, "Let Me In" sways dreamily, chugging along with its hypnotic beat while still feeling vital and just as jagged.

Orlando, Florida folk-rockers The Belltowers are headed up by Paul Mutchler, formerly of The Lears and The Green Today. Their tracks are infused with melody and jangling folk rock. A-side "Here to Stay" is a rich take on Paisley Underground style guitar (so, of course, The Byrds), complete with Hammond Organ accompaniment and precisely reverbed leads. "Lovin’ You", the B-side, is a great flip side, proving that The Belltowers are seasoned veterans of harmony and catchy riffs. They’ve been at it as a group now, for almost ten years, and it shows.

Both titles are currently available from 13 O'Clock Records, with the Belltowers still available from Market Square Records too.

Stream both titles here:

13 Apr 2015

Delia Derbyshire / Barry Bermange ‎"Inventions For Radio: The Dreams"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A real treat for Delia's legion of fans here. "Dreams" was originally made in collaboration with Barry Bermange and broadcast on BBC Radio's "Third Programme" on 05-01-1964. Quite what the listening public made of it, I can't imagine, as even today it's a strangely beautiful, but nightmarish proposition, with a slow, spooky atmosphere that immediately made me think of "Carnival of Souls".

Bermange recorded a selection of typically well-spoken, upper crust sounding members of the English public describing their uncomfortable, claustrophobic dreams, in a calm monotone which hints at the coiled mania beneath. David Lynch would love both the delivery, and the surreal depth of detail here.

These recordings were then spliced and reassembled, with excellent use of repetition to build tension, with Derbyshire providing suitably nightmarish electronic soundscapes that accentuate the feeling of mounting terror. Those who are fans of her eerie Doctor Who work will feel right at home here, although this is creepier than anything the Beeb would have allowed on their flagship kid's sci-fi show.

It's riveting stuff, presented in five themed movements. "Falling" is a particular revelation, full of edge of the seat moments, with a deliberately slow pace that racks up the tension to unbearable levels.

Word is unfortunately, that this vinyl release is a bootleg, and that it's sourced from 256k mp3s. It sounds like it may well be, unfortunately; it's certainly not an ideal situation, but given its relatively lo-fi origins, it doesn't suffer too much from this treatment. While I'm loathe to support this sort of venture, it's historical importance, coupled with the unlikeliness of an official release anytime soon (or indeed, ever) make this a no-regrets purchase for me, and should an official release eventuate, a re-buy is a certainty.

An essential addition to your Radiophonic collection.

Available from Norman Records here.

Nine Questions with Sam Cohen

Nine Questions is a regular feature on the Active Listener, where we ask our favourite artists nine simple questions and get all sorts of answers....

Today.... Sam Cohen.

What was the first record you bought?
It was the cassette single of "Bat Dance" by Prince from the Michael Keaton Batman. That was before I really identified with music though. It was just a souvenir that seemed necessary because I loved Batman. Appetite For Destruction was the one that got me thinking, "maybe I should do this!".

What was the last record you bought?
I think it was This Is Clarence Carter. I was doing a gig playing guitar for Charles Bradley in Switzerland, and we were maybe going to do Slip Away as an encore. We didn't, but when I was checking it out to learn, it just sounded so good, so I went ahead and bought the whole record. That first song Do What You Gotta Do is my jam! Would have been a great tune for Elvis. Has that Memphis thing, and it's a little more songwriter-y than most Clarence Carter stuff.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Well, I'm left-handed, I love pickles, and I can't help staring at huge butts. They're hypnotic and great. And, when I was around 8, I could recite the entire movie Clue.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Is it okay to say Jimi Hendrix? Those records have it all - improvising and hooks, monster playing and sonic experimentation. It's some of the most compelling music ever captured on tape and I'd love to witness how he achieved that balance. I'd like to see what happened effortlessly and what they had to dig into. Who was having which ideas. All that!

Who should we be listening to right now?
Whatever makes you feel good! The latest thing that struck me as essential listening that I hadn't given the proper attention was the first Latin Playboys record. David Hidalgo, a master on several instruments, is laying down ideas on a warped four track, which was then embellished and mixed by Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom. The grooves are amazing and so are the sounds and layers. It's loose, never precious or self conscious because it was intended as demos. I love hearing someone be themselves in front of a recording device, which definitely does not describe a lot of recordings, though it seems like it would.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
I've had my mind blown by music on all formats, so suffice it to say, it's more the message than the medium. Plenty of music that I've never experienced as anything other than a medium quality MP3 has changed my way of thinking about recording or songwriting or composing, so on the one hand, who cares. That said, I'm not fully satisfied by any format. I'm a little lazy for vinyl. Hate to admit it, but it's true. Plus, a lot of the stuff I would like to listen to on vinyl gets into fetish-y collector territory that I reserve for gear. Digital is great for convenience and storage and accessibility, and I think it would be more satisfying if digital playback systems improved. If there were better converters in iPods and computers, that'd be a big step in the right direction. If we decided music files could be bigger and just used lossless formats, I think that'd be pretty great. I want to embrace modern concepts and technology and not be a curmudgeon, but I do miss album art, and it's nice to disconnect from the screen when trying to enjoy music, which is more spiritual than the screen lets you feel sometimes. That sounds dogmatic, but I'm feeling it more lately. I want something simple and easy, yet tactile and fulfilling. Now that I really think about it, cassettes in a car might be the deepest form of musical enjoyment!

Tell us about your latest release.
It's my first solo album, and it's really exciting for me to put music out in this way. For years, I've made demos of certain songs where I play all the instruments just to have sketches for the band to hear or learn from. It's always been my favorite part of the process. This time out, that's the record for the most part. Playing and recording with that feeling of discovery in my own little world. It makes me happy and I'm excited for people to hear it.

What's next for you, musically?
I've been doing a lot of production these days and I have a few albums slated that I'm very excited about. Also hoping my record will reach enough people that it makes sense to get out and do some touring. Ideas are beginning to form for the next record as well. I have a sense of the vibe I want and the instruments I need around me.

What's for dinner?
I'm in Houston right now visiting my parents, so my wife and I are going out to Prego, a good friend's Italian restaurant, while my folks watch our baby girl. Date night! It's a huge deal.


12 Apr 2015

The Moon Band "S/T"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Moon Band came to the attention of fans of all things psych and wyrd with their debut single ‘Cedar People/My Home’, a classic slice of acid tinged 70s style folk that both impressed and got it's melodic claws into those who heard it leaving those listeners keen to hear more. And now here is the opportunity to do just that as the band's debut album is released on download by (Dodson and Fogg frontman) Chris Wade's excellent Wisdom Twins imprint. Indeed Wade seems to be determined to bring sophisticated and classic psych folk to the masses with his label; he has recently reissued the two long lost Mr Pine albums alongside an extensive and treasure filled back catalogue of Dodson And Fogg albums and side projects. Here, the Canadian Moon Band's two members Nicholas Tomlinson and Renée Forrester play a virtual folk orchestra's worth of instruments including bouzouki, sitar, fiddle, guitar, autoharp, banjo and recorders and whistles to create their full, emotive and carefully layered sound, resulting in an album that could have been recorded and considered a classic of the genre at any point in the last 30 years.

Opener 'Comin' Back Babe' is a country tinged piece of musical perfection that, with its dual vocal harmonies, recalls Gram Parsons duets with Emmylou Harris as well as the more reflective works of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Instantly emotive and with a dreamy nostalgia all of its own, this is an ideal introduction to what is a veritable treasure chest of folk and Laurel Canyon tinged gems. 'Silver And Gold' is a delicate and dreamlike slice of acid folk, Forrester's vocals imbued with beauty and melancholy that evokes images of endless fields of flowers and long lost scorching summers. There is a sepia tinged sense of wonder to proceedings; the whole song a lesson in melody and seemingly effortless classic songwriting. Next, the Kate Bush hued 'Be It In The Pines Or By The Sea' is a fiddle led witches song that recalls The Incredible String Band and Linda Perhacs in its otherworldly and eerie atmosphere, whilst 'Fortune's Way' pits both vocalists together in a sitar soaked perfect golden nugget of psych folk. 'Cedar People’s flower people harmonies and woodwind are utterly entrancing and timeless, the atmosphere not unlike an Alice In Wonderland dreamscape as sitar drives the song forward in lysergic fashion. 'Lazarus', meanwhile, is a fingerpicked, acoustic Appalachian lament with swathes of reverb dripping off the guitars. It is a hugely evocative and atmospheric piece, filled with hair on the back of the neck moments. Next, 'Old Friend' is a banjo and guitar filled tapestry that reminds this listener of The Doors 'Spanish Caravan' in its esoteric flourishes and sense of drama, a personal highlight in an album of genuinely magical moments. 'In My Clothes' is a wintery slice of acid specked loveliness, sitar and tabla providing a purple, baroque backdrop to Forester's incredible vocals. Shimmering and glistening with echoes of the summer of love, there is a beguiling nostalgia here that is both warmly comfortable and deeply immersive. 'Of The North' follows, a track that Trees or Bert Jansch would have been proud of (there is a definitely more than a hint of Pentangle here, The Moon Band are proudly beatnik and all the better for it). 'A Day Trip Round The Yard' is a Nick Drake styled gentle stroll at late dusk that dissolves into a thrillingly acid flashback style mosaic of backwards tapes and bouzouki as the track delves deeper down the rabbit hole. 'Tobacco Farm' is a reflective and melancholic duet whilst closer 'My Home' is a patchouli perfumed and carefully constructed piece of dreamfolk that is subsequently completely and utterly bewitching. It is the ideal conclusion to an album of such delicately weft and woven musical dreams.

That this is The Moon Band's first outing is nothing short of impressive; they have created a recording of such assurance, maturity and longevity that their future work is a genuinely exciting concept to consider. And for just now, this is an album that begs to be the soundtrack to your summer. Time to place those flowers in your hair.

Available now as a download at The Wisdom Twins Bandcamp site.

11 Apr 2015

Gilligan Smiles Premiere & Free Download

Melbourne's Gilligan Smiles are premiering their new single "Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway" with us today. It's the first track from their excellent upcoming album "Karmasouptruck", which we're happy to be co-releasing shortly with the Claustrophobe Records label.

"Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway" can be downloaded on a free / name your own price basis from the Claustrophobe Records Bandcamp page below:

Band press release: Gilligan Smiles was born out of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs through the musical union of Jimmy Jangles – Studio Engineer and Rocket destroyer M.D., and Michael Melody – wordsmith and slick licking space cadet extraordinaire. Bonding over a love of musical exploration and a common interest in the pursuit of fame and fortune, they began making music in 2011. Following an EP, Woods, and a debut album titled Smiling Only Got You So Far, the duo began Chilli-Peppering through several drummers and bassists before finally settling their mettle with their current bassist, Rhys “Soup” Campbell, and drummer Toby “the Sword” Ward. In 2014 a Ganymedean midwife delivered from the womb their second album, Fi.Fy.Fo.Funk, and the band begun playing gigs across Melbourne, musically inoculating the vulnerable immune systems of many.

Now Gilligan Smiles presents before you the single, Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway, from the upcoming album Karmasouptruck. Inspired by the streets of East Richmond leading towards Jimmy’s workplace, it details the plight of Karmasouptruck’s main protagonist – Atlas Johnson. Gilligan Smiles’ journey towards Karmasouptruck has been directly influenced by the music of The Flaming Lips, Dungen and late 60s-early 70s psychedelia. 2015 heralds the beginning of a highly anticipated adventure into the world outside of the studio for Gilligan Smiles, and they want you to join them and Atlas Johnson for the ride.


10 Apr 2015

Ocean Music "Ocean Music"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Hudson River Valley's Richard Aufrichtig is the chief protagonist behind Ocean Music and their compelling, and extremely accomplished debut. A driven songwriter, Aufrichtig already has thirteen releases to his name - a tremendous feat as he is only currently in his mid twenties. "Ocean Music" benefits both from the experience garnered from these previous releases, and also from a sense of renewed purpose, and comradery with the supporting cast of Benjamin Engel, Jack Randall, Ben Seretan, Alice Tolan-Mee, Trevor Wilson and Ethan Woods.

At heart, Aufrichtig writes very simple, direct songs, straight from the heart with an emotional intensity that is belied by his relaxed, conversational vocal delivery. It's troubadour music really, but where others may be happy to relate on a one to one basis with their audience in a sparse setting that allows the lyrics to be the sole focus, Aufrichtig has a more sprawling, cinematic setting in mind. While his vocals are always centre stage and very high in the mix, his conspirators here provide an epic soundscape that on the likes of "Fragments / Duino" really make it sound like it's drifting in to shore from somewhere mysterious and unfamiliar.

It's a gorgeous sounding album, which sounds like it's had loads of money thrown at it. The sense of grandeur present on Bon Iver, and Fleet Foxes albums is effortlessly captured here, with its majestic, billowing arrangements perfectly supporting Aufrichtig's engaging, resonant vocals.

It's the sort of album which is going to mean different things to different people, and as such, I don't feel comfortable influencing you with too many of my own interpretations. Suffice to say, that it is an album that will immediately grab your attention, and continue shedding layers of mystery, allowing you a step closer with each listen in a fashion that will keep you coming back increasingly regularly for more.

And you will be left wanting more, so I'm delighted to be able to tell you that Richard already has two further Ocean Music song-cycles recorded, one of which will be released later this year.

And if you're lucky enough to be in the area, you can catch Ocean Music live at Babycastles on April 24th with Active Listener faves The Moonsicles, You lucky, lucky people.

Vinyl, digital, and full stream of this lovely thing can be found here:

9 Apr 2015

Chef Menteur "III"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Sunrise Ocean Bender have just released a fantastic collection of New Orleans’ space rockers Chef Menteur’s sprawling and expansive work: "East of the Sun & West of the Moon" (2012), "North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday" (the latter’s previously unreleased companion album), and "Force Majeure" (2014). Beautifully packaged as a 3 CD set, the collection represents the achievements of Chef Menteur’s years of compiling, recording, releasing, and performing. Blending elements of post-rock, psychedelic (sometimes heavy), folk, electronica, Krautrock (Kosmiche, space rock, et cetera), and even some noise, Chef Menteur offer a diversity unusual for consistent and impressive acts.

"East of the Sun & West of the Moon" was apparently years in the making and tailored to a double LP rather than its full four albums worth of epic psych rock. (Fortunately, you get more of it with "North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday".) Tracks like "Nacronaut" offer up sheaves of layered, rolling feedback and strip to bare vibrato progressions and ambient tones, as if song structures are something meant only for forward motion. Alternately, tracks like "Il obstrue ma vue de Vénus" recall the heyday of late ‘90s and early 2000s post rock – of course with a bit of a modern flavor. And then there’s the jazzy – almost chillwave – style of "Lozenge Club" and the Boards of Canada-esque "The Forest", complete with sampled documentary-like spoken clips.

"Force Majeure" was soft-released in 2014 on a very limited edition cassette, but, with a new mastering, the album acts as the final CD of the triptych. It also happens to be this listener’s favorite of the three, though also the shortest. As the most recent recording from Chef Menteur as well, "Force Majeure" sounds honed and complete in its five tracks. "Færoe", the ambient opening track, is a wonderful eight minutes of swells and falls and, though the following four songs are heavier in a number of ways, it acts as an easy introduction to the musicianship and aesthetic of Chef Menteur. The remainder of the album brings tight rhythms, a bit of funk, dissonant organ work, and massive guitar sounds. In other words, it has it all. If you’re not a convert by the end of the second disc, the third will do the trick.

Chef Menteur’s III is available now through the links below on “professionally press and printed CDRs in Stumptown jacket.” For longtime fans, this is may come as a familiar – but well packaged – reintroduction to Chef Menteur’s discography, and, for newcomers, a perfect and complete entrance.