24 Jan 2015

Howlin' Rain "Mansion Songs"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Vanguard affiliated Easy Sound Recording Co. label has had a high impact first year. Becoming the home of choice for bands like The Donkeys and Papercuts (both of whom released career best albums this past year that can be at least partly attributed to the label's artist-centric approach) with future releases on the horizon from the likes of Isobel Campbell and Vetiver.

This spirit of artistic freedom must have been particularly appealing to Howlin' Rain's Ethan Miller, particularly following on from what by all accounts was a pretty miserable experience recording 2012's "The Russian Wilds" with Rick Rubin. "Mansion Songs" is Easy Sound's first release of 2015, and is the first in a trilogy that Miller has lined up which represents a new beginning of sorts for him. "When I began this record, I most certainly hadn't given up, but I was in a dark and trying place," explains Miller, "I wanted the album to reflect a dignified despair."And it certainly does that. And how. The blazing, psychedelic guitarwork that has been Miller's calling card since his Comets on Fire days is noticeably absent, throwing the spotlight squarely onto the songs, and putting his voice centrestage to an unprecedented degree. And these are almost certainly the best songs of his career so far.

The sparse nature of these recordings certainly seems to indicate that Miller did pick up a few things from his time with Rubin, but the ramshackle, ragged glory of the performances are something that it's hard to imagine Rubin having any tolerance for. So it's just as well Miller was left to his own devices here, or we wouldn't have "Mansion Songs", an album that stands up with the best of Little Feat's recorded output, and evokes "Tonight's The Night" and "Exile on Main Street", especially in the conviction of Miller's vocal delivery.

Howlin' Rain was originally started because Miller "wanted to sonically represent the history of California bands." By dropping the psychedelic element of his music, he's come closest to reaching that ideal here. And with two more albums lined up to accompany this, I'm very excited.

Album of the year so far for me.

"Mansion Songs" is available here.
 

Kentin Jivek & The Hare & The Moon "The Haunted Cabaret"


Reviewed by Robin Hamlyn.

On paper, a collaboration between The Hare and the Moon and Kentin Jivek is a beguiling prospect. While both artists have a long history of exploring what might loosely be termed “ambient and/or psychedelic folk”, their respective sound-worlds are radically different. The Hare and the Moon’s Blakean muse derives from the mystical fields of Old Albion — albeit filtered through an often Velvet Underground-tinted lens — whilst Jivek’s electronic, frequently synthesized soundscapes are more recognizably modern European. It’s also true to say that Jivek’s stark, disruptive vocal stylings are very far removed from The Hare and the Moon’s more traditional, although no less compelling, approach to the voice.
What emerges is a fascinating, disturbing, haunted fairground of an album, where the attractions range from the seemingly benign to the darkly subversive. “The Haunted Cabaret” opens the show with a jaunty pipe organ solo, accompanied by exclamations in German (uttered by the multi-lingual Jisek), evoking the back alleys of Berlin, and more specifically Bruno S.’s accordion-accompanied monologues in Herzog’s Stroszek. Our spirits buoyed, we then take a turn into one of the albums many corners of glamorous despair. “The Liquorist” opens with a spacious, menacing drone before peals of maniacal laughter announce the arrival of the song’s protagonist. The liquorist then reflects on the taste of alcohol, or “God’s fluid”, whilst succumbing to demonic paroxysms of what might be joy but sound more like the agonies of a highly aestheticized addict. Gloriously, the piece breaks into one of Grey Malkin’s divine ethereal riffs, creating a vortex of Cocteau Twins-like overtones into which the cackling, ranting liquorist disappears.
“Gevaudan” opens with a Ligeti-like cloud of moaning, unquiet voices, before Jisek’s rasping tones, this time in his native French, emerge from some unclean sepulcher. The musical texture now punctuated by tambourine hits (or is that the sound of the damned rattling their chains?), the voice, quite horrifyingly, becomes a bestial roar that is quickly enveloped by the rising tonal wash. As the song slouches towards silence, the sonority is reminiscent of Popol Vuh’s accompaniment to the opening credits of Herzog’s Nosferatu, and evokes a similar, and yet even more intense atmosphere of tenebrous gloom.
“Godhead” appears to elevate us immediately, and we emerge from the stygian depths on the wings of a sweet, even sentimental, string melody. After less than a minute, however, hissing whispers attack the stereo image, hard-panned and sibilant. And as the string orchestra is bruised by waves of dissonance, Jivek emerges once more, this time delivering, in English, a full-blooded croon on the nature of divinity. If you can imagine Nick Cave being stirred in with Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, with a little bit of Scott Walker on the side, you’ll be somewhere close, but there is a frankly demented quality to Jivek’s delivery that chills the blood. When mixed with Grey Malkin’s cathedral-like sonic textures, what emerges is once more imbued with a strange, ceremonial quality.
“Petite Mort” opens in a similarly serene fashion to that of “Godhead”, with a Faure-like string melody, delicately punctuated by silvery percussion. Jivek’s quietly febrile monologue finds a less extreme counterpoint in Grey Malkin’s exquisitely layered aural backcloth, ending the piece on a note of relative peace. “Das Narren Schiff”, is rendered in French, and Jivek’s performance here is comparatively restrained. Almost subliminally, though, voices alternately demonic and mellifluous trouble our brains, as Grey Malkin’s ingenious aural fabric — ranging from sitar-like drones to clouds of dense percussion — shrouds the landscape. Once more, the ghost of Popol Vuh haunts the speakers while the sound of a ticking clock creates an uncanny tension. The album’s final track, “Black Beard” consists of a relatively serene Jivek narrating the story of a pirate, accompanied, initially, by the album’s most minimal musical backdrop. As the piece reaches its climax, however, Grey Malkin’s ambient textures engulf the listener, leading her solemnly to a place of the most intense and corrupting beauty.
This is an album to get to know slowly, over a glass or two of blood-red wine. There’s just no point in trying to get to the bottom of it. It’s a masterpiece to which you simply have to yield.
Grab your copy from Reverb Worship while/when you can. The first print run has sold out, but there is another on the way.

22 Jan 2015

The See See "Once, Forever and Again"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Legendary U.S reissue label Sundazed paid the See See an enormous compliment when they issued the compilation "Days Nights & Late Morning Lights" a year or two back. Fabled for their classic psychedelic reissues, it was the first time in the label's lengthy history that it had consented to release an album by a contemporary act. This obviously speaks volumes about the quality of the See See's music, as well as suggesting what it's likely to sound like to newcomers. Those newcomers are likely to be a little surprised by what they hear here though. While the See See certainly have one foot placed firmly in the sixties, they also display a sturdy contemporary edge that casts them as much more than revivalists, very much in a neo-psychedelic vein rather than the strict replication that one might expect.

Their latest, "Once, Forever & Again" is another masterclass in classic pop styles with plenty of paisley tinges, but also, on the likes of "Over & Under" hints that the Smiths and the Chills may be as much of an influence as the Byrds.

Elsewhere, tracks like "Ynas Las" evoke expansive, open spaces in a fashion that will appeal to fans of more contemporary fare like Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes.

And the muscular, but unforced guitar riff of "Mary Anne" is a knee to the groin of those who might be tempted to suggest that neo-psychedelia in general is a bit wussy.

Another diverse offering from this London five piece then, and one that continues to further their ambitions and broaden their horizons in an unforced and thoroughly enjoyable fashion.

"Once Forever And Again" is available here.

21 Jan 2015

Mondo Drag "Mondo Drag"



Authentically vintage seventies prog stylings from a band with Radio Moscow and Blues Pills' rhythm section.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Mondo Drag is a heavy psych/progressive rock band from California. Their hard hitting music is deftly played by highly skilled musicians, and much of it is instrumental. Standout track "Plumajilla" takes a leaf from the Deep Purple songbook,with its powerful organ riffs charging at your ears. And then it suddenly switches gears to this evocative and reflective section of the song. This is typical of the twists and turns you can expect on this record; you never know what is around the corner. It builds up again slightly before fading to silence. "Shifting Sands" is not a West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band cover as you might expect. Rather, it's muti-layered neo-psych which flits into Krautrock territory. "Pillars of the Sky" is another favorite, meandering along in the best Pink Floyd tradition. Its passages sound like the band ingested "Wish You Were Here" in its entirety, a good influence to have! "Snakeskin" closes the record and clocks in around 6 minutes, once again displaying the band's talent for slowly building the energy and then really putting the hammer down.

Though I don't listen to prog rock these days, I really enjoyed a thoroughly modern take on the genre from this talented Oakland group.

CD and vinyl available here. Digital and full stream through the Bandcamp link below.

Fight Cloud / Houdan The Mystic "Where's My Shakespeare?"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This split, which falls somewhere between E.P and album length (eight tracks in all), is a lovely showcase for these two Richmond, Virginia based bands.

We've investigated Houdan The Mystic before, with their free "Archer's Jamboree" E.P causing quite a fuss here back in 2012. One that has made the three year wait since seem interminable. I was initially a little disappointed to note that the Houdan the Mystic gents were only responsible for four tracks here, but Fight Cloud prove to be every bit as worthy and it's hard to imagine a more complimentary band. In fact if you were to play me the album in a random order I would have trouble telling you which band was responsible for which tracks. What makes this particularly unusual is that this is anything but undistinguished music. Houdan the Mystic call themselves "psychedelic, complicated indie rock", which is a much more accurate description than anything I could conjure, and one that, with a little math-rock thrown into the mix, should evoke an image of a band that don't really sound like much else out there. That two such like-minded bands have found each other and joined forces is a very good thing indeed for us at the listening end of the apparatus.

Both bands sound jazz schooled, with impressively versatile rhythm sections. And while the time signatures change with alarming regularity, this isn't just cerebral music. The part of the brain that likes things a bit tricky will certainly be fist-pumping here, but there's also an Indie vocal sensibility at play that provides a human element for the listener to bond with. Add a bunch of great guitar hooks with impressive pop smarts - think Adrian Belew era King Crimson - and you've got a couple of bands that engage on multiple levels, and sound supremely comfortable on all of them.

I'm not going to single out any particular tracks for special attention as the whole E.P flows wonderfully from start to finish, and the ever shifting nature of these tracks ensures that the listener's attention is liable to be rapt until the very last minute. Suffice it to say that these two bands are extremely impressive, with a versatility and melodic sense which is rare to hear combined. I could listen to this stuff all day.

Both bands offer their sides digitally as name your price downloads through the links below, or you can buy a limited edition cassette for $5 U.S through either of the same links.



19 Jan 2015

Acorn Falling "2nd Plateau of Normalcy"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

http://www.acornfalling.com/

Acorn Falling, effectively the solo project of Copenhagen based musician Lars Kivig, has been steadily becoming a prominent name in experimental, electro acoustic and underground circles. Their debut album "Cabinet of Curiosities" was a hugely impressive first outing which saw Kivig’s muse at full strength, working alongside cellist John Contreras of Current 93 and percussionist Thomas Wydler of The Bad Seeds.

On Acorn Falling's second release "2nd Plateau Of Normalcy" Wydler and Contreras return, joined with, amongst others, Joseph Budenholzer of Backworld and Peter Principle of Tuxedomoon. Ambitious, intense, evocative, all these superlatives describe this album but after reading, don't just take my word for it. You need to hear this.

The album begins with "Whistle at Tragedy Bay", its sombre piano and keening vocal a prelude to something ominous and dread filled. The scratch and hum of a viola enters before the track takes off dramatically, Thomas Wylder's drums a veritable maelstrom amongst the wailing strings and Laura Noszczyk's emotive vocal lines. It's a heart shuddering moment, one of many on this album. Next, "Cliffhanger's Hymn" opens with bursts of viola before settling into cascades of piano and John Contreras cello, Kivig’s vocals emotive and bare; this music is stately, precise and hugely thrilling. Reminiscent in parts of Joseph Budenholzer's Backworld, Nick Cave’s "No More Shall We Part" and the finest of Black Heart Procession, Acorn Falling paint a widescreen picture, filled with nuances and deeply evocative detail. "The Constrictor"s electronic beeps and hums lead solemnly into a heady swamp of orchestral flourishes, unsettling percussion and a reptilian narrative. The sense of dread is palpable; this music is alive with crackling energy and genuine menace. "Bitter Ashes" steady beat is enveloped by hum and whirr with echoed harmonies swirling around Kivig's delivery, the sound of glass stretched and reverberated before the most lonesome guitar you will ever hear enters. In a just world this track would be soundtracking the forthcoming series of Twin Peaks, the song’s dark atmospheres and haunted air a perfect fit for David Lynch's visions. "As Heaven Went To Hell" has scraped strings which build the tension up to breaking point before a "Soundtracks For The Blind" era Swans style funereal beat leads into delicately picked, echoed guitar, viola and windswept vocal harmonies. The drums return and the music literally howls, a majestic cacophony of control and chaos. "MS Humanity" begins with a rumble before heartbreaking piano and cello echo out into the void, warmth amongst the frozen wastes. The crash of bass notes adds a sinister motif, however the sense of hope is not lost. It's a heartrending moment of great beauty. "Lost Horizons" motorik electronics and guitar frames Kivig's strong vocals, the song building and layering to an eastern flecked crescendo of whirling viola and spine tingling power. Next, electronic percussion, synth and strings combine to begin the eerie, album standout "The Navigator Who Doubted", a shadowy epic featuring Joseph Budenholzer on vocals that recalls early John Foxx. It's a work of startling grace and depth; indeed it is frustrating that music this good is being made in virtually the underground when it should have a mass audience, hopefully this will be the case in due course. "The Shot" is a tense, piano led lament, spectral guitar echoing around the song like wisps of smoke. This is late night music, for the wee small hours when it is darkest before the dawn. Finally "Eno's Song for Mum" is an early musical venture for Lars's son who can be heard over some gorgeous waterfalling piano lines and heartrending cello. An emotional and beautiful end to an evocative and moving album.

With this release Acorn Falling have staked their claim as one of underground music's finest; the sheer scope and ambition of this album is mindblowing. Acorn Falling go way beyond any plateau and far past any average normalcy. Hear this album; trust me.

Available for download on the 21st January and on physical formats thereafter. Three songs are ready to stream at

18 Jan 2015

Powder Blue "II"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Those of you with long memories may recall how much we loved the debut from this Saskatoon based quartet a couple of years back. They've had the odd change around in the personnel department and increased their profile substantially sense then, but they certainly haven't abandoned any of the qualities that made "Dream in Black" so memorable.

Theirs is a distinctive sound rather than a formula, making their music instantly familiar, without any hint of staleness. Their deconstruction of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" (sadly not included on the E.P) demonstrates their sense of self admirably - it's instantly recognisable to anyone who has heard the original, but could easily pass for an original of the band's if it were to be slotted into the playing order.

"Powder Blue II" doesn't reinvent the wheel then. It doesn't need to. It does everything that "Dream in Black" did, and it does it all so much better. At heart then, they're still a hazy, slow burning, psychedelic dream with the vocals of Shelby Gaudet, Sonia Dickin and Elsa Gebremichael coalescing into a soothing blanket of reverbed loveliness, always with a hint of menace adding an edge to keep the listener engaged. That sense of unease is enhanced admirably by Amber Kraft's tribal toms and guitarist Christopher Laramee who adds plenty of bite.

The whole thing is an easy to digest serving, but closer "Run" may well be the best encapsulation of their past, present and futures tied together; trance inducing vocals over a bed of rolling tom-toms, leading into a feedback laden, carnivale outro with an exhausting crescendo that must make an excellent set-closer live.

Ideal listening conditions? Add a bean-bag and some top notch headphones. Ideal.

You can stream the whole thing, or purchase digitally or on CD here:

17 Jan 2015

Dodson And Fogg "And When The Light Ran Out"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

wisdomtwinsbooks.bandcamp.com wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com

The New Year brings a new Dodson And Fogg album and what a fine way to start 2015. A collection of songs that Dodson mainman Chris Wade describes as 'exploring themes such as home, people upping and leaving whether they be passing on or moving away, for new lives and new beginnings and leaving things behind', it is certainly a reflective and ruminative (though not always restrained) recording. Featuring a smaller cast of contributors than is usual with a Dodson album, though notably brother Andy Wade is present as is regular sitar player Ricky Romain, this is Dodson stripped back and perhaps more nakedly emotional than previous. Yet it is clearly a Dodson record in heart and soul, which is a very good thing indeed.

"We Are Going Home" opens the album with warmth, a gentle acoustic paean to where the heart lies, Wade's Barrett-esque vocals and regular impressive "Forever Changes" style guitar runs twisting the song clearly into psych territory. "Shine" continues the trip down the rabbit hole; tabla, mandolin and some 60s guitar stylings framing the song with hazy, dreamy intent. Effortlessly catchy and melodic, this is classic Dodson. Instrumental "New Autumn" adds Georgia Cooke's flute to provide a nostalgic, sepia feel not unlike the instrumentals Nick Drake flavoured "Bryter Layter" with. There is definitely a melancholic edge at play here, more of a sense of weighing up and reviewing of life. "I Know The Way" ups the pace significantly with a mandolin and guitar stomp, punctuated with molten bursts of lead guitar. It's exhilarating and layers the track expertly with brimming tension. "Straight To The Sun" returns to the more wistful vein of the album, flute twisting and turning around Wade's Kinks-ian melodies. Piano notes waterfall across the baroque setting, an autumnal anthem. "I Never Want You To Go" begins with melodica before quickly developing into a finger-picked psych beauty, xylophone cascading down the Spanish flecked guitar runs to create a lysergic and sunlit gem. "What You Looking For?" is a downbeat, folk-tinged piece of sombre reflection and sage advice for the song's protagonist. "Down Down The Rain Will Fall" mixes electric and acoustic guitar with handclaps and a Ray Davies cynicism to great effect, ably demonstrating why Wade is quite simply one of the UK's current foremost songwriters. Indeed, given Dodson's prolific output and the extremely high quality control he employs there is a case for Wade to be much more highly lauded than he is at this moment in time; the man deserves serious acclaim and recognition. As if this was not enough, he is also now introducing other essential acts via his Wisdom twins imprint; from this source came The Moon Band's debut single only a few weeks back.

"Way Out In The Cold" is a classic Dodson piece of tense pop mastery, minor key guitars jabbing and shifting under a chorus that will stay in your head for days. "My World" is a Jagger/Richards style eulogy to being an individual - all garage rock guitars and dark attitude. Next, "Sister Storm" begins with the sound of rain and thunder before mandolin, piano and sitar transports it into another time and space altogether. Part "Riders On The Storm", part raga freak out, this instrumental gives a good indication of the breadth of Dodson's imagination and ambition. Whilst there is a discernible sound to the band, they can never be accused of being predictable, there always being twists, odd corners and 'what on earth' moments (in a good way!) on any Dodson record. Similarly, album closer "And When The Light Ran Out" begins with dread filled dramatic stabs of violin before settling into a delicate Eastern psych nugget, sitar shimmering over some of the finest chamber pop you will ever hear. George Harrison would be proud of coming up with this one.

It cannot be repeated enough; Dodson and Fogg are a national treasure. Part of a musical linage of Ray Davies, Syd Barrett and Julian Cope, Wade is a truly gifted and unique songwriter. Their (now) extensive back catalogue is a well of psych jewels for the uninitiated. For those in the know, we have another classic Dodson album and for that we are thankful.

Available now with beautiful sleeve artwork by Dodson regular Linzi Napier.

15 Jan 2015

Virgen Sideral "Virgen Sideral"


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's well past time I made mention of excellent Greek psychedelic label Garden of Dreams (G.O.D) Records. The truth is, since their relatively recent inception, they've released so much music that I can't keep up. Several things that I've intended to review have been buried under an avalanche of subsequent releases from the label, all of it good stuff too. So, rather than continue to be befuddled by the quality and quantity of their releases, I'll introduce you to one of their first releases and leave you to investigate the rest of their vast playground here, in your own time.

As is the case with a number of G.O.D's artists, Peruvian space-rockers Virgen Sideral were completely unknown to me when their self-titled CD arrived in the post, but that is certainly not a reflection on its obvious quality.

It's tempting to make comparison to another Peruvian collective (Montibus Communitas), who are popular among these pages. Yet while the two bands share a common bond and utilise similar tools (mood and improvisation), Virgen Sideral bypass the earthy, spiritual flavours of their fellow countrymen and head skywards into kosmische / progressive territory.

It could be argued that Virgen Sideral relies heavily on the teachings of "Saucerful of Secrets". Some may say a little too much, but these ears hear plenty more going on besides (including some mind bogglingly proficient work from the rhythm section), and the band's explorative side is more often than not fully engaged, showing that they intend to further the genre, rather than rest on another band's forty seven year old laurels.

The melodies are often nebulous and difficult to grasp, but Virgen Sideral's real strengths lie in their ability to build a huge, alien sound that really does sound like a broadcast from an unknown origin, complete with disembodied voices, cacophonous crescendos, and periods of eerie calm.

A real third-eye opener.

Available on CD or digitally here along with plenty of other goodies:

14 Jan 2015

She Rocola "Burn The Witch/ Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town"


Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

She Rocola conjure one the most bewitching releases of the last few months with this EP on the fine label, A Year In The Country. Equal parts performance theatre, found sound and folksong (think Tiger Lillies meets the spookiest of Nurse With Wound) these tracks inhabit an especially cobwebbed and haunted corner of the imagination.

"Burn The Witch" begins with urgent stabs and wails of violin and an immediate sense of foreboding. Rocola intones the witches' fate, vocal harmonies layering ghostlike amidst the baroque setting, her voice endlessly repeating "make her leave my mind..." It is a short yet hugely effective piece, a subtle but powerful spell. Inspired by "childhood memories and by formative viewings of late-night folk-horror films from in front of and behind the sofa" this is a hallucinatory and haunting piece of folk noir.

Second track "Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town" is a music box filled shimmer of dread, acoustic guitars casting spectral shadows under the repeated nursery rhyme mantra of the verse. The voice of the witch speaks, intertwining with the sounds of the children's twisted game. It is both utterly unique and completely hypnotic; this is gothic folk like you have never heard before. With shades of Siouxsie and a hint of Maxine Peake (from The Eccentronic Research Council's Pendle Witch themed opus "1612 Overture"), this is music for when the dark falls and there is nothing but the sound of the rain and wind on the window pane. Ms She Rocola herself describes the song as drawing from "her own personal folklore and that of her home town; childhood experiences of chasing her playmates around Molly Leigh's grave and the rhymes which accompanied such games. It is an audiological conjuring of hazy, sleepy small-hours memories and dreams from those times."

Highly recommended, this single comes in the usual high quality and limited edition A Year In The Country packaging; an Owl Light Edition CD with card inserts; a Night Edition with black CDr, a 12 page string bound booklet, 4 x 25mm badge pack and 3 vinyl style waterproof stickers; a Dawn Edition with textured recycled fold out sleeve with insert and badge; a Day Edition with textured fine art cotton rag paper sleeve signed and hand numbered and finally an Arising Edition with a Giclée print. All of which can be found through the Bandcamp link below, as well as a full stream.

Fall under the spell of She Rocola and let her nightmares be the sound of your dreams.