27 Aug 2015

Evening Fires "Where I’ve Been is Places and What I’ve Seen is Things" & "Incredible Adventures"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Over the last few years, Pennsylvania’s Evening Fires has been quietly releasing albums at a steady pace. This past summer, we saw a simultaneous release: their latest LP “Where I’ve Been is Places and What I’ve Seen is Things” through Sunrise Ocean Bender and the companion CD – which is strong enough to stand alone – “Incredible Adventures” by way of Deep Water Acres. I had ordered the LP a while before its release and well before the opportunity to review it came my way, partly out of some pride as a Pennsylvanian and partly because of SOB’s description, which markets Evening Fires as a collective of like-minded musicians, tuning into something both very cosmic and very rural, as “purveyors of Appalachian space rock.” Besides, considering Sunrise Ocean Bender’s track record (see Chef Menteur, E GONE, or Dead Sea Apes for more proof), the purchase was made in full confidence.

"We Cast Our Lots with the Waves" drifts through a simple melody, voiced by an accordion, while various electronic pulses and chimes find their footing. The effect is staggering, as two instrumentations, often at odds, complement each other so well. With Evening Fires, that's going to happen throughout their work, as they meld the rustic ambience with far reaching and eclectic outlooks. If you need more proof of this, see "Space Mountain," which stirs from a great depth, brimming with acid rock drop ins and wobbling electronics alongside a lush backdrop of open ambience.

“Staring Down the Gullet of the Great Beyond,” a three part excursion into improvised and swirling space rock that spans both the LP and CD, is the touchstone for newcomers to Evening Fires. Varying in length, from about 5 minutes to 11, each track documents what sounds like a moment or mood during rehearsal. The musicians simultaneously move separately and work incredibly in sync as well. Unlike many of their peers, the post-rock melded psychedelia the band caters is rarely tinged by dark ambience, even at its most exploratory; rather, Evening Fires cooks up a uniquely positive and upbeat brand of instrumentalism that celebrates their group, their "collective of musical shape-shifters, [...] tribe of mountain dwelling barn alchemists." In the end, the album's general feel is one of mutual appreciation and camaraderie through the highly kosmische musicianship; it sounds fun to play.

"Incredible Adventures" is much more than a companion disc; with four tracks that clock in at 38 minutes, you more or less understand the implicit agreement. These are extended takes, varying from electronic collage - see "Inaussprechlichen Kulten" for example - and ambient jazz to guitar heavy depth diving.

Both available through the bandcamp links below in a variety of formats.

26 Aug 2015

Rainsmoke "Mean Meanwhile"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Here is something equal parts curious, unusual and spellbinding. 'Mean Meanwhile', a new single from a similarly new project featuring Chris Wade (Dodson And Fogg), Roger Planer and Nigel Planer (an instantly recognisable and much loved British actor whose biography as an actor includes The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents, Dennis Potter's Blackeyes and This Is Jinsey). Featuring two mixes of the song that offer a different mood and spin on the material, this is a quiet, late summer psych gem.

With evocative lyrics written by Nigel Planer (who featured on two hilarious and surreal spoken word tracks on Dodson And Fogg's recent 'In A Strange Slumber' opus) and music by brother Roger Planer and Dodson main man Chris Wade, 'Mean Meanwhile' is a hazy, harmonised slice of acid folk tinged melancholy loveliness that recalls Ray Davies, the acoustic moments of 'Selling England By The Pound' and underrated folksters Candidate. The guitars twist and turn in gentle, fluid motion under Planer's expressive vocals, the song recognisably having a Dodson And Fogg involvement in its easy way with a truly memorable melody. The 'A side' mix is a simpler, more acoustic take whilst the 'B side' contains a fuller mix with drums, subtle backwards psych guitar and organ lending a more tripped out and 60's feel to proceedings. Both versions offer a different mood and air, the first being a more straight forward slice of classic, psychedelic folk whilst the second offers a rich, immersive, more prog fuelled Moody Blues take on the song. Each are indispensable and enjoyable in their own right and promise great things from Rainsmoke in their future musical wanderings.

A perfect soundtrack as the summer afternoons grow shorter with its wistful melancholy and gentle haze, 'Mean Meanwhile' is now available on Chris Wade's Wisdom Twins Bandcamp page for a paltry one pound. You know what to do.

24 Aug 2015

Download Pepperisms Vol. Three Custom Mix

Back in 2011, I put together "Pepperisms Vol. Two", an unofficial followup to a now-hard-to-find compilation of Beatlesque tunes from the sixties and seventies.

I've been meaning to do another one for years, and finally got around to looking into it a month or so ago. I didn't do it alone this time though. I enlisted the help of the Junipers' Peter Gough (who has his own excellent music blog here). Peter's encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm were invaluable, and he suggested and provided around half of the tracks featured here - thanks Peter!

As with the previous volume, it's sequenced to reflect a chronological journey through the eras of the Beatles music that each song is inspired by. Many of the tracks come from lossy sources due to their rarity, so don't expect everything to be crystal clear.

Are you ready for 23 of the most Beatlesque tracks from the sixties and seventies?

Download here. 

For those who still like little shiny discs, this should fit comfortably on a 74 min CD-R.

Put Your Mind at Ease - Every Mother's Son
Three Arms To Hold You - Apostrophe
Secondary Man - Rogues
Hell Will Take Care Of Her - Brass Buttons
The Sailing Ship - The Cryan Shames
What Do You Do - The Bonzo Dog Band
Whisper Who Dares - John Winfields
Just Because I've Fallen Down - The Buckinghams
To The Woods - The Barron Knights
Strawberry Jam Man - Jamme
Master Will - Velvet Glove
Yes It Is - Rockin' Horse
Rocking Circus - Space AKA The Tremeloes
If You Really Need Me - The Hudson Brothers
A Fool - Godiego
Bluebird Is Dead - Electric Light Orchestra
Save A Red Face - Stackridge
Lonely Norman - Jimmy Campbell
I Surrender - Sleepy Hollow
Paul McCartney - Tony Hazzard
Nice and Easy - Tranquility
See The Light - The Flame
Sub-Rosa Subway - Klaatu

Disclaimer - If you like what you hear, please buy the artist's work. The tracks featured here are intended to introduce the artists to a new paying audience. If you are the copyright holder for anything featured here and object to its inclusion, please get in touch and it will be removed immediately.

ZX+ "Don't Drink The Water"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Now this was a very pleasant surprise. Arriving in the post unsolicited, this CD found its way into my CD player with me knowing exactly nothing about it or the artist involved, apart from a vague remembrance of there being some sort of a Fruits de Mer Records connection.

"Don't Drink the Water" as it turns out, might well be one of the best albums that I've heard this year. ZX+ is the one man band project of Stephen Evans, and on the evidence of this he's something of a British equivalent to Ty Segall, only with a much wider frame of influential reference. Short and to the point, Evans' songs are inventive and immaculately arranged without sacrificing his spirit of spontaneity. And the hooks are numerous, huge, and inescapible.

Opener "The Crazies" is a glammy powerpop juggernaut with a killer chorus - equal parts Ty Segall and Big Star. It's a winnning formula, and one that a hugely enjoyable album could be built upon, but Evans has a lot more going on in his head, and the rest of "Don't Drink the Water" traverses an admirable range of terrains, which mark this as the product of a hyperactive, creative mind that doesn't want to be chained down, but knows how to put it's own distinctive stamp on its creations.

There's not a weak track among its 13, but one of the highlights will give you an idea of what you're letting yourself in for, and demonstrate Evans' versatility; "The Desert" is an absolute scorcher, and sounds like a track that an alternate universe's Supergrass have unwisely left off "In It For The Money", only this Supergrass are also lovers of quirky spaghetti westerns and shoegaze. That's a lot of impressions to be left with from a song that's only a little over two minutes long, but that's what this album is going to do to you. And you'll find yourself humming its choruses for weeks afterwards. You've been warned.

This is one hugely talented songwriter.

CD, download and full stream here:

Matchess "Somnaphoria"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

If you've never heard of Matchess, here's a bit of an introduction. Matchess is the solo project of Chicago musician Whitney Johnson, whom you may know from Verma or E+. If you've not heard of either, they're worth the excursion. From an outsider’s perspective, Chicago’s music scene seems to be one of the most active in America – and if not “active” then cultivated, pure, and vibrant. I can only imagine the quality bands that have not made it out of the area yet. Verma’s “Sunrunner” is still a favorite of this reviewer, so it wasn’t long before I discovered Johnson’s first release, 2013’s “Seraphastra.” Like "Seraphastra," "Somnaphoria" - released by Trouble in Mind Records earlier this summer - blends elements of classical viola arrangement, drone, and primitive electronica into a mesmerizing cocktail of strangely beautiful and otherworldly records. "Somnaphoria" is the next installation in Johnson's proposed trilogy, so, presumably, we'll get more subtle exploration and experimentation that wrangles the physicality of a bowed viola with the constant whir of an organ.

This time around, Johnson cites symbolist poetry as her influence, name checking Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, whose imagery and invention must prove difficult – for most musicians – to translate sonically, but Johnson’s instruments, tones, and aesthetics of choice have a way of alluding to the same balance those poets achieved, namely melding the harsh, cold voices of mechanical oscillations and whirs with the very human, emotive viola. Mysteriously, Johnson’s voice – arguably the most organic of her line up – hovers somewhere in between, deeply altered by any number of pedals and processors but still remaining unique and feeling. The effect is powerful. As opening track, "So Many Fetters," begins with a cascade of chimes, so we, as listeners, are ushered into a sort of dreamland.

Layered, complex drones intermingle over pulses and tones. However, with tracks like "Sinister Prophecies of Coming Catastrophes" to provide somber and moving interludes, the otherwise continual drones remain hypnotic.

“Somnaphoria” is available here (US), and here (UK/EU).

23 Aug 2015

Uh Bones "Honey Coma"

Reviewed by Celina Ozymandias

It seems I’m a bit late to the flower punk party happening in Chicago. Upon first listen of the Uh Bones, I’m actually upset that I haven’t been listening to them for years. This is a sound that makes me happy because while it is clearly heavily influenced by 60s garage and psychedelic rock, there is also enough originality in there to warrant your attention and your shimmy. It’s the perfect balance between boppin’-your-head and downright-getting-down music.

Their newest release, "Honey Coma", from Randy Records is a lo-fi delight full of Nuggets-esque goodness. The album is a slow lift-off with “In Your Womb,” a track that is like some lost, languid, early Black Lips number, only warm and fuzzy. And I mean fuzzy, in the nicest of ways. Like a giant, sleepy bumblebee cruising from flower to flower. Things start really picking up with “Loretta,” which could easily be a lost garage single from 1967. The bass sound throughout the album is phenomenal, but the bass line in this song is absolutely top. It’s punchy, it’s upbeat, and it’s bound to make you move. The next track is what happens when a band is able to combine the best of everything and make it work. “Trouble No More” takes the groove of the original, inserts Dawn Penn’s “No, No No”, and comes out sounding like The Blues Magoos (or, arguably, The Beatles). My hat’s off to the guys on that one because that’s no easy feat. Toward the end of the album, “I’ll Never” sticks out because it’s got the familiarity of The Kinks’ “I Need You” and a playful integration of instrumentation a la Them’s “Gloria.” It ends in a brief flourish of psych freakout that I could have gladly listened to for ages, but which speaks to their dynamic talent. They manage to put all of these influences in and still have room for their own sonic contributions.

I think ‘psych’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a blanket label of music that involves reverb and echo. What I feel Uh Bones are doing with their sound is solidifying their rightful claim to garage psych. There are no 8 or 28 minute drone sessions, there is no noodling, and in fact the longest track is just over 3 minutes long. These songs just get to the point and leave you wanting more. Uh Bones have a sound familiar to those of us (myself included) seemingly stuck in 60s worship, but they give us something new to dig and shake our butts to.

Vinyl and digital both available here:

21 Aug 2015

The Seventh Ring of Saturn "Ormythology"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Seventh Ring of Saturn's previous, self-titled album fell into my lap courtesy of Fruits de Mer Records' Keith Jones. It wasn't a Fruits de Mer release, but Keith was sufficiently impressed to feel I should hear it, and he was right. Unfortunately with a release date of 2007 it was far too old for me to review for you. Nonetheless, I contacted TSROS's Ted Selke to attempt to negotiate a digital reissue through the Active Listener Records imprint, but Ted was gracious but firm; TSROS had come a long way, and were working up new material which would offer a far more accurate representation of what TSROS was really all about, and that was Ted's primary focus. Interpreting this as Ted's way of saying that he thinks that the self-titled album (which I think is absolutely fantastic) is not up to scratch left me extremely curious as to what this new material was going to be like.

Which brings us to "Ormythology", the culmination of years of work for Selke and co.

Like the debut, "Ormythology" is a mixture of originals and covers. The two Selke penned numbers "Burning a Hole" and "Time to Fly" are among the strongest tracks here, especially the former, which has the subtle melodicism of the Green Pajamas, but is much more deeply lysergic than anything they've turned their hand to since the mid eighties. I'd love to hear more originals on the next release, if these are anything to go on.

The covers are great too, mind. Bypassing safe selections, the six covers are an esoteric mixture that take in everything from Turkish and Greek folk and pop to Danish and American garage. If you weren't familiar with the originals however, you'd be hard pressed to notice that they weren't the band's own songs, so well do they put their own stamp on them. Exotic instrumentals "Teli Teli Teli" and Erkin Koray’s "Karli Dagger" are given exciting makeovers that fuse Eastern scales with Western psychedelia perfectly. The T.C Atlantics' "Faces" gets given the TSROS treatment too, emerging from a swirling cloud of phasing to be reinvented as a moody psych ballad. And Danish heavy psych band Hurdy Gurdy's "Spaceman" is a much more muscular affair, with wailing guitar leads and crunchy power chords creating a lysergic storm. And then it's all over, leaving me very much wanting more.

Fortunately there is more; released concurrently is a 7" of much less esoteric covers - the Grateful Dead's "Mountains of the Moon" and the Hollies' "All the World is Love". The band's website seems to imply that these are solo recordings by Ted, but they're just as ornate as anything on the album - if a little more straightforward. And on lovely clear vinyl too.

Both releases are strictly limited, and come in lovely hand-stamped heavy card sleeves. Visit the band's website here for full streams of most of the tracks, and to find out how and where you can order these. (The album is available on CD and vinyl).

19 Aug 2015

"Weirdshire...Beating The Bounds"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A treasure trove of psych-folk gems, 'Weirdshire...Beating The Bounds' is brought to you by acid folk masters Sproatly Smith, who have compiled the best and strangest of their local Herefordshire contemporaries into one grand guignol of the wyrd and the wonderful. As is stated on their bandcamp page; 'Weirdshire? Well, of course it is. If you don’t know that, you must have been born in Herefordshire and therefore think everywhere else is weird…'

The first thing to note is the sheer wealth and breadth of talent on display for such a confined geographical area; there must be something in the waters down there, something in the air, the ale or the fields which has resulted in a track listing that includes Sproatly Smith themselves (if you haven't encountered their magical ruralism and unique take on psych folk before you are in for an incredible treat), two songs from the bardic Sedayne (again seek his superb albums out for a clear view of the direction where true folk music is heading), highly recommended folk brut act Heed The Thunder and the ethereal and bewitching Alula Down (both featuring various Sproatly members).

Sproatly Smith's 'The Raven's Song' is a lysergic, haunted drone filled with twisted acoustic melodies, field recordings and spectral vocals; listening to this is enough to place a chill in the air. Vintage synths bubble and drift across the track's finale, further adding a sense of the uncanny. Smith accomplice Mark Stevenson presents a solo woodwind piece entitled 'Strangeness' that embodies the term 'folk horror' and reminds this listener of the intro to Black Widow's infernal 'Come To The Sabbat'. Sedayne offers both the ghostly refrain of 'Gentle Sisterhood' which opens the album and the closing 'Blackthorn Feral' which utilises vintage radio recordings of local traditions and as a precursor to some raga infused analogue keyboard meditations. It is hugely impressive and also quite unexpected, in keeping with the wyrd theme of this album. We are as far here from Mumford and Sons territory as it is possible to get, and a good thing too. Heed The Thunder's 'Green Man' is a bucolic mix of xylophone and mandolin, gentle percussion entering to create an atmosphere not unlike if Oliver Postgate and Vernon Elliot had conceived the score to The Wicker Man; this is a stand out track amongst some very fine company indeed. Alula Down's 'Hereford Garden Dreaming' enters upon birdsong and delicate acoustics before Kate Gathercole's spellbinding vocals transport the listener to another time completely, to an eternal spring.

Other Hereford artists also add to this rustic and heady brew. Andrew Skellam's 'Green Moat' is reflective, violin flecked stately folk of the highest order whilst Tobion/ Bird Radio again use local radio recordings to map a psychogeographical time and place before Peter Hammill-esque vocal harmonies present a dramatic and engaging folk tale abetted by crashes of gong and sinister piano sprinkles. Ria's 'Vampire Lullaby' is a fragile, gothic slice of classic psych folk whilst Aspel Orchard's music box and toy piano based 'Fledging Song' is a revelation, a shanty of ghosts and overgrown paths that begs further investigation into their back catalogue. Elspeth Anne uses rasping organ drones to frame her defiant and doomed folk lament; again further searching to find more songs by these artists is a necessity and isn't that what the best compilations do? They can be a casket of previously unknown and hidden gemstones that lead to lifelong allegiances with newly discovered acts and bands. Weirdshire certainly falls into this category and then some. Milkteeth use unaccompanied group vocals to splendid effect in a deeply eerie and dark 'The River' whilst Lol Roberston's heartrending 'Lucy's Song' is a superior piece of smoky, autumnal nostalgia. Vaginapocalypse's 'The Witches' is an unnerving jig that is absolutely entrancing and Footdragger's virtuoso guitar and Baby Dee style vocals make for a unique and winning formula in his 'Spires To Sticks'. Finally, David Roberts string soaked, tabla led acoustic voyaging and hushed vocals evoke shades of Nick Drake and misty autumn afternoons.

Weirdshire then is not just a place with geographical boundaries and features, with its local traditions and its own peculiar ways. It is also a frame of mind, a shared collective spirit that is just slightly off kilter in comparison to the outside world. This is what makes it special and what makes this album essential. They welcome visitors I hear, just as long as they aren't Christian coppers from the mainland…

Available below on CD and download.

18 Aug 2015

Beach House "Depression Cherry"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Beach House is a group I’ve loosely followed over the years, always admiring their beautiful songs and skill in playing and creating such dreamy confections. Depression Cherry is no exception, though it seems the band has stripped down the sound a bit. Songs are a bit less ornate and inhabit the same sonic space as Stereolab, Death and Vanilla, and maybe even Air. It was produced and recorded with the help of longtime collaborator Chris Coady (Future Islands, Wavves) at Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

The band claims this release is more aggressive, and I am not clear on what that means exactly. It seems like the same mannered dream pop to me, with vintage echoes of great 50s/60s pop and a modern sensibility. It is cinematic dream pop for hipsters, but it goes far beyond that in its accomplishments. French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally serve up finely honed compositions with Victoria’s achingly lovely voice swirling around deceptively simple melodies. “Levitation” would be a hit if there was justice in the music world. I really dig how it builds from simple melodic lines and never loses sight of its basic patterns, even while instruments are dropped into the mix here and there. It is a sparkling gem on a four diamond record, and Victoria has never sounded better. Aching and heartfelt vocals married to lovely music is a match made in dream pop heaven. “Sparks” starts off like a School of Seven Bells piece, but moves away from that sound with an almost prog rock feel from the keyboards. It makes its way slowly and gracefully through your head, where it will stay lodged for hours. I also like the way they added slightly distorted guitar to the mix, letting it fade in and out at will. “Space Song” is classic Beach House, instantly evoking not only their past releases but also diving into that deep pool of vintage pop that defines their sound. “Beyond Love” has a slow chugging beat with loud guitar pumping it up, and when Victoria’s cool, elegant voice drifts in, it is pure nirvana.

I like the clock like percussion on “10:37”, along with the lush keyboard washes wrapping themselves around Victoria’s beautiful voice like a cloak. “PPP” is stunning work from start to finish, it has a watery texture to it and comes as close to perfect dream pop as anything I can imagine. Plus it builds to some cool slide guitar! “Bluebird” starts with a click track and a somber feeling, but Victoria once again elevates the song to something special, her voice can be so magical and soothing. And finally, “Days of Candy” begins as acapella with perfect harmonies and reminds me strongly of sacred music, with Victoria’s splendid alto and the layers of backing vocals and quiet piano. Just a perfect ending to this year’s most beautiful record.

Available on vinyl here (UK/EU) and here (US), and CD here (UK/EU), and here (US).

17 Aug 2015

Kingdom of the Holy Sun "The Return of the Sun Kings"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Finally someone has recognized the brilliance of Guido Anselmi's psychedelic tribe and sorted out a vinyl release for them, after several excellent digital releases. (To clarify, many have already recognized said brilliance, but not been in a position to 'vinylize' it).

The label in question is Dead Bees Records (also responsible for what we reckon was last year's best shoegaze release, from France's Dead Horse One), and their timing is brilliant, as "The Return of the Sun Kings" continues the trend of each release from these guys being exponentially better than the last. Logically there has to be a limit as to how much each release can kick the previous's arse by, but there's no signs of it yet.

"The Return of the Sun Kings" sees Anselmi channeling the Lizard King's shamanistic tendencies into a captivating set of anthemic paeans. But far from coming off as a Doors rip-off, or even just an affectionate homage, Anselmi develops and leads these canticles into realms that one suspects Morrison would have happily ventured into, had he not been directed elsewhere by the other three Doors members.

"The Return of the Sun Kings" is a wonderful thing. Expertly sequenced and paced, it's front-loaded with the hookier, more pop-friendly material (pre-release track "Getting Higher", the ridiculously catchy "The Sun Kings"), before the second side gets into the really interesting stuff - droning, tribal pieces which recall the Black Angel's early material, with the garage clamour toned down.

I've right thrashed the digital promo of this, and the vinyl release will certainly be on my shopping list. Check out the Bandcamp page below, where you can download the first track for free as a taster, or pre-order the vinyl release which is due around the 1st of September: