1 Sep 2014

Album Review: David Kilgour and The Heavy Eights "End Times Undone"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

2014 is a marvelous year for Kiwi pop. Not only do we have two glorious compilations by The Clean and The Bats, but we have solo albums by all THREE members of The Clean. I feel like I've hit a musical bonanza with all these riches. David Kilgour dropped this quiet beauty in early August, and the album's opener, "Like Rain" counts as one of his best compositions. It is every bit as good as the classics he's penned in The Clean, and equals any of his solo efforts. It has that chiming majesty I adore, and starts off slowly. The listener is not sure what to expect, and then, bam! The song really kicks into gear. I suppose Kilgour can pen these tunes in his sleep, but who cares? They are my sonic bread and butter, and I can listen to him all day.

We then have "Lose Myself in Sound", a mid-tempo rocker with hushed vocals. Kilgour is never in your face, but that doesn't mean his sometimes quiet compositions don't register on all levels. It just takes longer sometimes, like this pretty tune and all the others that follow in its wake. Like maybe "Light Headed", a sleepy ballad with drums pounding like distant thunder. Imagine lazing in a hammock with this music curling around your ears, and you get the idea. This is music for lingering on the beach, or in any favorite place that gives you peace. "Christopher Columbus" is another quiet stunner with more jangly guitars, something I never seem to tire of. Then we have "Crow", a slightly ominous tune in a minor key where the vocals don't start up until later in the song. It's a bit different from the other songs, and now it makes you want to sleep with one eye open. Ooh, then David ups the energy with "Dropper", one of his endless classics with extremely cool guitar. "Comin' On" returns us to gentler waters, followed by the sparse "I Don't Want to Live Alone". Kilgour and his band close out the album with "Some Things You Don't Get Back", which borrows its opening melody from The Clean. But no matter, this is a satisfying and lovely piece of work from David and The Heavy Eights.

"End Times Undone" is available on vinyl, and C.D.

31 Aug 2014

Album Review: Hot Knives

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A real treat for cratediggers here. The inaugural release on Jeremy Cargill's (Ugly Things magazine) Got Kinda Lost label pulls together both singles and a bunch of previously hard to find studio recordings from San Francisco's Hot Knives, dating roughly from around 1976.

The presence of former Flamin' Groovies members Tim Lynch on guitar and Danny Mihm on drums ensures a certain, muscular powerpop presence, but it's the dual lead vocals of brother/sister act Michael and Debra Houpt that lend Hot Knives their most distinctive trait, leading them down the rabbit hole into the psychedelic folk-rock scene of the then recent San Francisco past - an influence driven home by a reverent, affectionate cover of Moby Grape's "Hey Grandma" (included here). This mixture of (what at the time must have been viewed as passe) folk-rock and straight-up crunchy powerpop must have been a bit of a hard sell at the time. After a couple of listens I was still on the fence with this one, feeling somewhat uncomfortable being pulled in both directions at once. Further immersion however has seen things settle and these previously uncomfortable bedfellows are now getting along very nicely, with the disparate strands of their sound meshing to the point where I'm now at a bit of a loss to explain why it didn't make sense to me on a first listen. Oh well. Better late than never.

The contents of this here collection sit together rather nicely as an album too, despite the fact that these tracks were never intended to act as such (or so I gather). There's plenty of highlights which showcase both the variety on offer here as well as the distinctiveness with which they assimilate their influences. "Secrets About Me" is a seemingly straightforward folk-rocker, but boasts a sublime, descending arpeggiated guitar figure during the chorus which recalls George Harrison. "Around the World" could be an early seventies Grateful Dead single. And "Winter's Come" bears all of the trademarks of a Southern rock anthem, but is executed with a conciseness that betrays a thorough immersion in classic powerpop.

I can highly recommend this one, especially to those who like later psych / folk-rock opuses like "Inside the Shadow" by Anonymous. It'll be very interesting to see what else surfaces on the Get Kinda Lost label in the future, Cargill has a knack for sorting the wheat from the chaff.

There's a super limited edition vinyl version of this with all sorts of inserts and bonus material available here.

There's also a CD version available here for those who like it that way too.

30 Aug 2014

"The GoatMan" Now Available Through Active Listener Records

A few months ago we featured this glowing review for the score to lost 1974 U.K horror film "The GoatMan".
Reverb Worship released a limited edition CD of the newly recovered score in June which sold out within a matter of days, and it's been unavailable since.
The rights holders have been in touch with the Active Listener to ask whether we would like to release a digital version of the score through our Active Listener Records imprint, a request that we were very happy to accept.
It's a great piece of work - essential for fans of films like Blood on Satan's Claw and the Witchfinder General, as well as reissue labels like the Death Waltz Recording Company, Trunk Records and Dual Planet.

It's available now and can be downloaded right here:

Album Review: Emma Tricca "Relic"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

"Relic" is the new album from Emma Tricca, billed as giallo-folk by the fine people at Finders Keepers who've released this on their Bird Records imprint. While that giallo tag may appear a little misleading after an initial, surface-level listen to "Relic", it's not just been slapped on by a record company who are, admittedly rather fond of the term (and with their recent spate of excellent Bruno Nicolai reissues who can blame them?). While "Relic" may be missing most of the normal sonic cues you'd expect from giallo, Italian born Tricca's childhood, surrounded by "Giallo comic books, whistling Morricone film scores, vibrant religious imagery and expensive furniture design" has informed her tastes at a fundamental level which has helped her skewed take on femme-folk crystalise into something quite unique. There are superficial similarities to Nico, although that comparison is conjured by mood, rather than Tricca's voice which, on the evidence of "Relic", should have courted more favour in the mid noughties freak-folk boom.

Her song's are delicate, spooked treasures - sparse, but intricately arranged. Her nimble, fingerpicked guitar is a constant throughout, but it's the little touches, like the gorgeous cascading vibes of "November at my Door", or the swelling guitars of "All The Pretty Flowers" which betray her natural inclination to be slightly left of centre. Fans of Nico, Beth Gibbons, Joana Newsom and Linda Perhacs are all likely to be enchanted by "Relic", although in truth it sounds little like any of those artists, or anyone else for that matter. A true original.

"Relic is available on vinyl, CD, and digital.

29 Aug 2014

The Active Listener Sampler #23

Here we go folks - I'm in a bit of a rush, so I'll leave you to investigate further. This month's sampler, as always a free or name your price download. And thanks to Eric Adrian Lee (http://ericadrianleedesign.tumblr.com/) for the sleeve art.

Download or stream right here:

Reissue Review: The Kinks "Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround / Percy" Deluxe Edition

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's been a long wait for Kinks fans for the release of this reissue from near the tail end of the band's golden period, with earlier reissues in this series hitting the shelves in 2011.

"Lola Versus Powerman.." inhabits an odd place in the Kinks evolution. Beloved by some fans, but seen as the starting point of the onset of the mediocrity of their later seventies releases by others, it's easy to see things from both sides (although this writer has been a long term fan). It's musically much heavier than previous releases, which is perfectly in keeping with the darker tone of Ray Davie's songwriting here, which largely reflects an increasing frustration with the music industry. It's easy to detect the seeds of the overblown stadium rockers that they would soon become in brother Dave's guitar tones on tracks like "Top of the Pops" but at this point Ray's songwriting was still sharp and benefits greatly from this more muscular approach, with "Powerman" particularly impressive. There's plenty here for those more enamoured of the classic Kinks touch too; "This Time Tomorrow" would have fit nicely on "Arthur", and "Got To be Free" is a one of the best closing statements in their catalogue. Not to mention "Strangers", a tremendously affecting, and slightly Dylanesque ballad which is surely Dave's best ever songwriting credit. A great album, and well worth a revisit for those who had previously written it off as good but not great.

The cynical will no doubt credit the decision to include the soundtrack to "Percy" in this package as a way of making a few extra bucks out of an album that is traditionally a pretty low seller, but it's really a stroke of genius, which will hopefully bring about some sort of reappraisal. A few rambling instrumentals (and "Willesden Green") stop it from consistently hitting the same heights as "Lola", but there are untapped classics here beyond "God's Children". "Dreams" and "Animals In The Zoo" are upbeat charmers, while "The Way Love Used To Be" and "Moments" are two of Ray's best ballads.

Kinks archivist extraordinaire Andrew Sandoval has trawled the vaults for bonus material as per norm, and has come up with some interesting stuff too. Chief of interest and much anticipated are a couple of unreleased tracks "Anytime" and "The Good Life". The former is the clear winner, building into something of an epic after a slightly ropey start, while "The Good Life" sounds like a generic T. Rex outtake from the "Electric Warrior" era. While the alternate takes and demos are generally of lesser interest there's still room for a startling orchestral / choral version of "God's Children (End)", and radically different takes of "Lola" and "Got To Be Free" that offer intriguing glimpses into the band's creative process.

Available here.

27 Aug 2014

Reviews In Brief - Horsebeach, "Country Funk II", The John Steel Singers "Everything's a Thread"

Reviews by Nathan Ford

"Horsebeach"is a rather special debut album from Manchester's Ryan Kennedy, following on from a promising single and E.P over the last year. It's an extremely accomplished example of bedsit jangle that will give those of you who have thrashed your copies of Real Estate's "Atlas" something fresh to sink your teeth into (indeed I think I prefer this, but it doesn't reach the heights of "Days"). Sharing Real Estate's lazy, summer sway, Horsebeach also recalls influences closer to home, particularly Felt, and on tracks like "Dull" there is more than a hint of Morrissey in Kennedy's delivery. The credits seem to indicate that this is a one man show, with Kennedy writing, performing and producing the lot - an impressive feat, particularly when the end result sounds like it's capturing that magic moment in the rehearsal room when everyone locks on to exactly the same wavelength. Pretty great.

Also pretty great is the much anticipated "Country Funk Volume II 1967 - 1974", which does an admirable job of capitalising on the strengths of Volume One. The names may be slightly more familiar, and there may be a higher reliance on covers of very familiar songs, but there are still plenty of surprises. Top of the heap is Townes Van Zandt's whip smart "Hunger Child Blues", a highlight from a surprisingly funky set of sessions dating two years prior to his debut album (those sessions are available here). And Billy Swan's wound down, funereal take on "Don't Be Cruel" set a template that Robert Plant waited thirty odd years to capitalise on with "Raising Sand". Some great stuff here.

I've shown you enough Australian psychedelia over the last few years for you to know that it's got one of the strongest scenes anywhere at the moment. It's usually accomplished on a purely grass roots level so it's always of interest to see who gets picked up and given a serious push internationally. The latest to follow in Tame Impala and Pond's footsteps is Sydney band The John Steel Singers whose second album "Everything's A Thread" is getting some pretty serious, fringes of the mainstream attention in the UK at the moment. One listen makes it clear why this might be the case. Unerring pop smarts coupled with immaculate, contemporary production. These guys are also a whole lot more fun than Tame Impala and pull from a much wider pool of influences; "State of Unrest" is  krauty motorik goodness grafted onto an irresistible, shiny pop nugget, while "M.J's on Fire Again" is smouldering, psychedelic funk of Princely proportions. And that my friends, is just the proverbial tip. Big things await this lot.

25 Aug 2014

The Cleaners From Venus "Return to Bohemia"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Because of Martin Newell's recent health scares, those of a cynical disposition may suspect that the unanimously positive reviews for this latest Cleaners From Venus album are a result not of its quality, but merely a reaction to the fact that it exists at all. Any such suspicions are quickly banished upon listening however as "Return To Bohemia" is every bit as excellent as we've come to expect from Mr Newell.

Riding on the crest of a new found wave of (semi) popularity courtesy of an excellent reissue programme on Captured Tracks this new album on excellent Indie label Soft Bodies is a return to a simple, self recorded aesthetic; an opportunity for Newell to create one of his "front room Rubber Souls" the way he used to (hence the title).

It's an appealingly intimate and ramshackle album with tracks like "Cling To Me" demonstrating both an off the cuff demo-ish charm, and the sorts of hooks that most other songwriters plug away endlessly, attempting to catch a glimpse of.  Elsewhere sparser tracks like "He's Goin' Out with Marilyn" have a more rounded and complete feel to them that suggest more deliberation and care.

It's naturally at its most affecting on tracks like "The Days of May", underpinned with a melancholy which, given recent circumstances, is given added poignancy. But when it comes down to it Newell is doing what he's always done: channeling an effortless songwriting deity and cloaking his outpourings in arrangements and melodies so right for them that they immediately sound both naggingly familiar, and impossible to replicate.

Marvelous, get it right away. And while you're at it get a copy of Giles Smith's "Lost in Music" if you haven't already. It's the best book about music you will ever read, and carries the odd amusing anecdote from Smith's days as a member of the Cleaners From Venus lineup.

You can stream selected tracks, or buy the CD or digital version through the widget below:

23 Aug 2014

Juston Stens "Share The Road"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

All those old "how many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?" chestnuts are rapidly becoming a relic of less enlightened times (albeit an amusing one). With albums like Foxygen drummer Sean Fleming's "My Friend Fish" easily matching the output on their dayjob, the days of drummers producing albums like "Sentimental Journey" (bless) and "Two Sides Of The Moon" appear to be long behind us.

Jumping ship from the successful Dr. Dog after six years behind the skins has given Juston Stens an opportunity to flex his songwriting muscles, and he certainly seems to have sponged up plenty of his former bandmate's songwriting prowess. Hitting the road on a Triumph, Stens toured around the States, recording these collaborative tracks as he went with the likes of Jessica Lea Mayfield, David Vandervelde, Dr. Dog members and more. The process is documented on the film "I Lay Where I  Fall", but the album functions perfectly well as a stand alone piece.

Stens is a strong songwriter, with the deft ability to evoke classic Americana with a nice,  contemporary twist which also references mild psychedelia and classic pop. Fans of Dr. Dog, Father John Misty, Blitzen Trapper, Wilco and the like should be pricking up their ears about now. Stens has an emotive, Evan Dando-ish croon that works particularly well in tandem with a female voice, particularly on the unmistakeable Nancy and Lee homage "Strange Love", but he's equally at home with low key rural psychedelia "Slipping Away" or peppy Belle and Sebastian pop "It's Aright".

These sorts of albums often end up sounding more like the collaborators than the featured artist, but Stens has a dominant hand here that allows the guests room to breathe, flourish and contribute their best without hijacking the album's direction. Surprising for someone usually hidden behind a drumkit, but on the evidence provided here Stens has his own vision as well as plenty of charisma to carry the role of the frontman.


Dodson & Fogg "After The Fall" Track by Track with Chris Wade

Interviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Dodson And Fogg, the work of singer songwriter and visionary Chris Wade, is arguably the UK’s current foremost psych act. His back catalogue is filled with glistening musical jewels and treasure that includes collaborations with some of psychedelia and folk’s most revered names such as Alison O’ Donnell (Mellow Candle), Celia Humphris (Trees), Nik Turner (Hawkwind) and Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention/Trader Horne). Demonstrating a strong melodic sensibility but with the oddest and most curious of angles and dark corners, Dodson’s most recent album "After the Fall" is an instant classic. If you haven’t already dived down the musical rabbit hole into their wonderland, I strongly advise leaping in feet first now.

I caught up with Chris to ask him about the album, the inspirations and ideas behind the songs, and those impressive collaborations. Before we begin I’d like to say a huge thank you to him for his entertaining, candid and illuminating reflections.

"Here’s a track by track summary of the album "After the Fall". As I typed, I put the album on the headphones to get myself back into the songs. I know I only released it three months ago but it seems years old already. I always get afraid of sounding self-involved when doing interviews so if I start to go on like a pompous prat you have my permission to beat me with a rounders bat.

"You're An Island"
I wrote this with my partner Linzi when she was pregnant with my daughter, so right away it makes me feel happy just to listen to it. I recorded those simple chords that had quite a weird discordant sound and we started these lyrics about the world being like a wild vast sea and how a man searches far and wide for happiness but it’s actually all laid down in front of you. These weird phrases were being thrown back and forth so it was really fun to write that way. I got the sitar player Ricky Romain to do some lovely flourishes and the violinist Scarlet Rivera plays some beautiful melodies on it. She was on Dylan’s "Desire" album, one of my very favourite albums, so for me that was a dream come true.

"Sweet Lily Rose"
This is about my daughter and I wrote it before she was born. I remember just imagining what she might be like, so it’s another one that makes me feel warm. Like I said the other day in another interview, and Ill repeat it here because I’m a lazy bastard… no because I think it’s true, art is like a diary. You document your feelings and views on the page, canvas, or on sound, whatever your area might be, and then you can look back and the piece conjures up the emotions and feelings you had at the time. This song feels like it was written years ago, because it feels like my daughter has always been here. And don’t I know it at five in the morning!!

"In Your Own Fine Way"
This was one I came up with one day on my father in law’s guitar he has lying about the house. Then Alison O Donnell got in touch asking if we could collaborate again, so I sent it to her and she did some fantastic backing vocals on it. I’m still really happy with how this one sounds. Odd lyrics though.

"Lord Above"
This was an angry one actually. I had the riff and I recorded the whole track then put the lyrics to it. They’re about the government, all the horror that was turning up in the press, so it inspired this cry to the lord above. Quite a simple song actually. People have said it has a bit of a Sabbathy sound to it, which I’ll gladly accept ‘cos Sabbath kick bottom.

"Here in the Night" 
I wrote this one really quick. I got my first capo and started dicking about on it and played an A chord with the capo on and developed this really chilled out kind of track. I think it’s good for an album to have a mix of styles on it, chilled out and stripped down a bit before it takes off again.

"Life's Life"
Me and Linzi wrote this one too. I had the weird guitar bit and then we started the lyrics. It’s an observational thing really, people we see from the window everyday doing their odd little things. Like the old bloke who marches like a soldier, and the other old bloke who is restless all day long going back and forth carrying weird objects, wrestling with delivery trolleys and peddling about on his bike in all weathers. Even when you get up in the night for the baby milk from the kitchen, you sometimes see him farting about in the dark. Poor guy.

"Bring Me Back"
This was another capo thing I did, a surreal lyric, not too sure what it’s about now. I think it came from a dream. It’s quite a laid back one, and I sound pissed on it.

"Careless Man"
This was a bit of a bluesy thing I started playing ‘cos I was listening to early Fleetwood Mac. I love Peter Green’s playing and it reminds me of that a bit. Then Celia added these really cool backing vocals on it that gave it a new slant. Lyrically I was turning the blues round, ‘cos it’s always some fella saying this chick cheated on him or took his pride. So I was singing about a negligent bloke who never thought of other people’s feelings. Some drunken arse really. Seeing the blues from another angle in a way. What am I even saying???

"Must Be Going Crazy"
This was about someone I used to know of who was always battling with his own mind. Sad really. And I imagined what his life must be like day to day, struggling with insanity. Quite a weird one.

"Hiding from the Light"
This took ages to record. I had to piece it together bit by bit and kept adding my bits of violin, flute, guitars and all sorts of stuff. It was about the city, how people don’t look each other in the eye, London in particular. And I thought people don’t really face the truth much, it’s all about what’s on the surface, the day to day things that cover the real important things. Or not admitting something, being in denial, looking away from the truth or the light. Again, I think I sniffed too much Muller Rice this afternoon.

"Just Wondering"
I really like this one. It started as a weird story I wrote that had a double meaning. On one hand it’s a blind girl sitting in a field and all these weird creatures start crawling towards her out of the dirt, and in the end she realizes what they are and runs away. She runs away towards the sun and they disappear, burning in the sun. On the other hand it was about facing your fears and when you face them they go away. I put it to this music that just kind of developed as I went along and then Alison O Donnell did some lovely backing vocals on it. Happy with this one.

"After the Fall"
I had the main tune to this for a while and kept forgetting to do anything with it. In the end I came up with the full song, bit by bit, and plucked the violin on it, played some African thumb piano (an instrument with endless possibilities… with its five metal pegs!). Then I had the idea of doing two voices, one in each speaker, one being the human voice and the other being the soul, and the song kind of ponders the afterlife. It just so happens to have bongos and a sitar on it, so people will call it trippy but I just found that subject interesting and love the sound of Ricky’s playing. I don’t mind people calling it psychedelic, I just don’t think it is myself. I think sounds are sounds and if something tickles my fancy (oo-er) I’ll use it."