22 Sep 2014

Album Review: Nick Nicely "Space of a Second"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

When Nick Nicely released his second single, "Hilly Fields" in 1982, NME were quick to proclaim it "the best psychedelic record made since the '60s". "Hilly Fields" innovative fusion of whimsical Beatles / Barrett psychedelia with Neu / Numan synthesizers and electronica was an extremely important link in the chain that led to the current psychedelic renaissance, but despite this, Nicely soon disappeared down the rabbit hole himself. It wasn't until reissue culture caught up with him in 2004, that his debut full length "Psychotropia" was finally released, with momentum steadily rolling ever since.

And that about brings us up to "Space of a Second", Nicely's brand new album, out on the 29th of this month. It's had a long gestation, and I've seen reference to it being ready to release dating back to at least 2011, but no explanation as to what has kept it from us until now.

Be warned. "Space of a Second" is by no means an easy record, and this may have a lot to do with why we're only just getting to hear it now. There are achingly lovely tunes to be found here, but as Nicely fans will have come to expect by now, they're cloaked in a dense, and often disorientating kaleidoscopic fog, with layers of electronics fading in and out of the mix. Snatches of tune emerge briefly, before being snatched away and smothered by waves of dubby psychedelic weirdness.

This being the case, "Space of a Second" does take its time to progress from being an intriguing listen to a truly satisfying one, but the patient listener will be rewarded tenfold. "Space of a Second" is truly in a field of its own, and is unlike any other album that you're likely to hear this year. If we ever get the chance to hear the Beatles "Carnival of Light", I have a sneaking suspicion that it'll sound a little like this.

And the largely acoustic (but still very lysergic) version of "Hilly Fields" on here is a quite lovely touch. Recommended if you're willing to invest some time.

"Space Of A Second" is available here on vinyl, and CD.

21 Sep 2014

E.P Review: Zoltan "Tombs of the Blind Dead"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

London synth prog trio Zoltan return with an excellent new E.P (on Rise Above Records this time). Following on from their tribute to John Cameron's "Psychomania" score, this time they turn their attention to Amando de Ossorio’s creepy Knights Templar zombie quartet "Tombs of the Blind Dead", "Return of the Blind Dead", "The Ghost Galleon" and "Night of The Seagulls". The films themselves are among the best of the Spanish seventies horror boom, with the slow motion footage of the Templar zombies on horseback providing some of the most iconic and evocative images of the era.

Zoltan's music in tribute is equally evocative, with this E.P featuring four tracks, each named after and representing one of the four films. "Tombs of the Blind Dead" suitably enough has a half speed feel to it with a lumbering fuzz bass and percussion riff, offset by stabs of mellotron and menacing synthesizer swells.  "Return of the Blind Dead" maintains that sense of unease with a lighter touch, and is dominated by layers of mellotron that recall the second side of King Crimson's "In The Wake Of Poseidon"."The Ghost Galleon" (despite representing the least distinguished film in the series) brings the bass to the forefront with a prominent gallop that follows in the footsteps of Roger Water's aggressive bass work of the "Meddle" era. "Night of the Seagulls" rounds things off nicely with a more dissonant offering which seems like it's settling in for atmosphere until the rhythm section enter and steer it towards a climactic finish.

Certainly up there with their excellent debut "First Stage Zoltan", this is perhaps more of a slow burner, but prolonged immersion is extremely rewarding. Certainly on my 'to buy' list.

Available digitally,with vinyl to follow shortly.

19 Sep 2014

Album Review: Jon Brooks "52"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin ( The Hare & The Moon)

Jon Brooks is a name that should immediately be familiar to fans of the output of the Ghost Box record label or to listeners of the hauntology genre in general . His spooked and analogue dérives have graced many a classic album from his previous solo work to releases under the Advisory Circle moniker such as 'As the Crow Flies'. Here, he follows up his previous Clay Pipe release 'Shapwick' with '52', a collection of ghostly and desolate sonic sonnets that evoke both hazy nostalgia and a sense of otherworldliness. Inspired by memories of his grandmother’s house and garden, there is a deeply human element to the evocative vintage electronica and synthesised sounds contained herein.

'Morning Window' opens the album with frozen hymnal drones, evoking the coldest of winters. It's a mood piece and an effective one. 'The Mezzanine's pizzicato melody also creeps in the shadows, scratching and cobwebbed but also oddly beautiful and deeply affecting. Reminiscent of Moon's Music era Coil or perhaps late 70s Kraftwerk (had they grown up in one Britain’s concrete new towns) there is the sense of nostalgia and sadness for things and times lost mixed with an eerie sense of dread and discomfort. There are ghosts in this music, moving between the past to present and back again. 'Fibre Optics' adds electronic hums and squelches which become curiously percussive and begin to suggest their own melodies, not unlike a more haunted version of OMD's (early hauntological classic) 'Dazzle Ships'. 'Pond One' is a shimmer of warm but foreboding analogue tones, a gentle melody picking its way through the sense of winteriness and building subtly to a quiet crescendo of great beauty. 'Hothouse' in contrast is a short interlude of a series of dread filled hums, drones and keyboard rises leading into 'All The Way from Leafield's more rustic birdsong, albeit this is also combined with generated electronic whirrs and clicks. There is a sense of dérive within this album (even if it is a walk through memory rather than a physical location), a walk through psychogeographical territory; perhaps some English town where the ancient land and ley lines still vibrate and breathe beneath the pavements and parks. 'December Trees' is a gorgeous and chilling shimmer of a song, gentle synth hiccups over a drone as smooth and cold as glass.

Over on side two (how delightful to be able to say that in a review) 'The Back Room's piano notes reverbate, filling the space with an almost choral and religious sense of wonder. Suggestive of other works such as that of composer Richard Skelton, this is an exercise on the beauty and sense of sacred space that repetition and minimalism can create. It's a stunning and heartrending piece and needs to be heard. 'Lichen' continues the lonely walk through the bleak landscape of memory, gentle vintage bleeps and computer noise permeating the symphony of ringing notes and melodies. This music may be electronic but it says something about the human condition and our connection with the environment around us much more than many more 'organic' releases. Indeed, one could make an argument for this being a form of modern folk music. 'Walk in Store's sinister resonating chimes add a sense of dread and of the unknown, this is not necessarily a pleasant amble through the rooms of the past. Something else lives here with us and it is ancient. 'Pond 2' is a glacial masterpiece, strings building on creeping bass notes, the end result a virtual shiver of a song. Surely there must be a BFI release of unearthed footage of British life somewhere that this hugely evocative and descriptive music can soundtrack. It would be a perfect fit. 'Wax Lemons' metallic drips and drops also paint a sense of aloneness, of the quiet of winter or the dead of night; again of the environment being alive with something unknown, an imprint of ours and others’ pasts. 'Whispering Glass', its organ melody both melancholy and yet strangely hopeful, is the longest piece on the album and is a conclusion or finale or sorts. Utterly entrancing and heartrending, its sheer beauty floats and swells majestically and mercurially. The album evokes the sense of being on a journey in general and this penultimate track feels like a return home. It is hugely affecting. Closer 'End of the Corridor' returns us briefly to the humming sense of melancholy dread and the idea that this is not the end; that the journey or the environment and our pasts will be alive again in the morning, waiting for us.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. For aficionados of The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly and Pye Audio Corner this is a must. Brook's himself describes his music as "everything's fine, but there is something not quite right about it." This is an able description of a music haunted by its past and its possible futures but which is also a thing of great beauty. Soon to be released on vinyl (with download code) and housed in a startlingly lovely sleeve designed by Clay Pipe owner Frances Castle (check out her other releases and incredible sleeve designs) this is an essential acquisition. Do not miss out on this; do not let it become just a haunted memory.

Edition of 500 - pre-order coming soon, directly from Clay Pipe.

18 Sep 2014

Album Review : Fumaça Preta "S/T"

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub

It seems like, in every review of any Portugese-language rock band, the Os Mutantes comparisons start flying; especially if it’s a psych band. It’s inevitable. After all, Os Mutantes are the most-conspicuous example of Latin psychedelia. It’s easy. It’s also lazy.

That said the new album from Amsterdam-based Fumaça Preta (Portugese for Black Smoke) DOES bear certain resemblances to certain Tropicalia stalwarts. But I hear even more Tom Zé (in the vocals and in the appropriation and adaptation of certain rhythms) and early Gilberto Gil (in the guitar sounds) than I do Os Mutantes, I also hear a whole lot of Sabbath and Zappa, too.

Bandleader/percussionist/producer Alex Figueira and his crew announce their arrival with otherworldly howls at the beginning of "Pupilas Dilatadas" (Dilated Pupils). It’s a sudden shock to the system that is an absolute attention grabber. Then the snare starts playing a march, and the classic Hammond B3 sound that we all know and love pops up before it all settles into a groove. Soon enough fuzz guitars, additional percussion, and a variety of unidentifiable sounds join the aural assault.

The Bossa beat of "Toda Pessoa" propels slightly discordant, jazz-inflected guitar lines, fuzz bass, and chant-along vocals before a distorted saxophone solo bursts forth. "Eu Era Um Cão" throws in some airplane sound effects, synths, a funky beat, and some congas for good measure.

The title track opens with a riff so heavy that Black Sabbath would have a difficult time picking it up. And then, instead of getting even more psychedelic, they fly into a breakneck punk rock groove. Screamo-style. Song after song, the sonic assault continues, with only the occasional respite provided by something like the Hammond-focused "Voce Enlouqueceu".

There is absolutely nothing pop about this record; not a single attempt to court the mainstream. A lot of effort has been taken to make it sound authentic – like 1969. The recordings are all red-lined, making it sound as if everything is just on the verge of breaking apart and distorting; like it is all being run through overdriven vacuum tubes. But, listen closely and you can hear some of the modern electronic gadgets and production techniques that have been injected into the sound.

Yes, Fumaça Preta can be difficult at times. But, no matter how noisy things get, Figueira makes sure that the groove remains and that it reigns supreme. Every song on the record is brilliantly arranged, with a sense of playfulness that is totally engaging. It’s a sonic assault that has enough twists and turns to keep you smiling all the way.

For the more-adventurous listener, this could wind up being not just one of the best psychedelic releases of 2014, but one of the best releases of the year, period. Bravo!

CD, Vinyl & Digital all available here.

17 Sep 2014

Hypeworthy Upcoming Releases: Dunedin Underground Pop Compilation, Maston, Children of Leir

T E M P O R A R Y - Selections from Dunedin's Pop Underground 2011 - 2014 is the name of a new Vinyl / CD / digital collection from Dunedin's Fishrider Records, featuring lauded artists like Trick Mammoth, Opposite Sex, Males, The Prophet Hens & The Shifting Sands. It goes a long way to proving that Flying Nun isn't the beginning and the end of the Dunedin music scene (although Flying Nun fans will find much to enjoy amidst the jangle here),and that the scene is still incredibly vibrant.

It can be had here right now (shipping from New Zealand), or U.K / European peeps will be able to pick it up a little more cheaply through Amazon from September 22.

Stroll On Records (home of the excellent Triptides) have had a dig around in our favourite psychedelic pop maverick Maston's cupboards for their next release, "The Opal Collection". Frank Maston's Trouble in Mind album debut was made up partially of new tracks and partially from material from two excellent and now out of print E.Ps. "The Opal Collection" fills in the gaps with the rest of the material from those E.Ps as well as previously unreleased songs recorded around the same time. If you've got the Trouble in Mind release "Shadows", you need this - it's equally essential.

It's due on October 13th and can be pre-ordered here on vinyl. The digital version is available right now and can be found here. Oh, and Maston is currently working on new material in the Netherlands in Jacco Gardner's studio. Yay!

Some of you may recall us making a big deal about Children of Leir last year.  They have a new double a sided 7" due out October 27. "Black Annis ​/​ Children of Leir" promises to be pretty bad ass with the video for "Black Annis" (streamable below), showing that they haven't lost their knack for a propulsive Krautwork meets Velvets workout.

...The Dane Hills area of Leicester was said to be haunted by a hideous blue skinned, hag-like creature known as Black Annis, possibly a relict of some local pagan deity. Although partial to all human flesh she took particular delight in eating young children, whom she would flay alive. She would then hang their skins like some grisly trophy upon the walls of a cave known as 'Black Annis' Bower'. She is said to have created the cave with her bare hands, tearing through the rock with her iron claws..

The 7" can be pre-ordered here, and there's a new album due next year.

16 Sep 2014

Album Review: Allah-La's "Worship The Sun"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A lot has changed in the short space just shy of two years since Allah-La's released their self titled debut. Having met and bonded while working in L.A's Amoeba Records, that debut was a welcome release from a bunch of guys who loved classic albums, and obviously enjoyed each other's company. Since then, their popularity has exploded, and as a result "Worship The Sun" faced a weight of expectation that often drags down even the most well intentioned sophomore effort.

Initial critical reaction tended to indicate that this was a fairly safe, 'more of the same' sort of effort, and while this is obviously the work of the same band, I'd like to expand upon that slightly back-handed description.

"Worship The Sun" is a much more mature effort than the debut, and by that I don't mean that it's more serious, or less fun. The jangly vintage surf-pop of the debut is still a dominant force, but the arrangements on "Worship The Sun" manage to integrate other, complimentary influences that hadn't been hinted at in the past. These influences add depth and a more well rounded element to the band's sound, which makes the debut sound more like a rough blueprint in comparison, and also hints at the possibilities for evolution in the band's future recordings.

The background hum and distorted guitars that usher in"De Vida Voz" are an early indication that things aren't quite going to run as expected here, even if the track does then settle into a more familiar harmonious jangle. Elsewhere "Yemeni Jade" brings in a lonesome steel guitar to tap into the spacious windswept vistas of early, instrumental Calexico in an extremely effective fashion, while "Better Than Mine" has a great Byrds / Burritos vibe going for it.

Variation, and evolution of sound aside though, the other secret to the success of "Worship The Sun" is simply that the songs are much stronger than those previously offered up by the band. "Ferus Gallery" and "No Werewolf" are the strongest surf instrumentals that the band have penned to this point, and songs like the anthemic garage rocker "Follow You Down" and "501-415" show that much has been learnt in the last few years, with the early promise of the debut honed and perfected here.

"Worship The Sun" is available on vinyl, and CD.

15 Sep 2014

Album Review: The Ilk "The New Dark Age"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

This writer recalls The Ilk from the olden days of MySpace (confused younger readers may want to ask an older sibling) where their strange, yet beautiful creations appeared both mysteriously and frequently, delighting fans such as myself. Indeed, having been making music in the shadows for a number of years, The Ilk remain almost a total enigma; are they a band, is one person behind all of this or are they a collective of musicians? The mystery is both enticing and only adds flavour to the oddness and charm of their music.

Their new opus "The New Dark Age" (appearing seemingly out of nowhere yet very much welcome) is a veritable feast of instrumental psychedelia and wyrd folk with a healthy seasoning of the best of seventies prog. It is also a thing of great beauty and wonder; it boggles the mind that music of this quality should be so relatively obscure and free to obtain (as it is on Bandcamp). Were it released in 1972 on say, Harvest Records, this album would now be spoken about in hallowed terms amongst fans and collectors.

Opener "On Ilkley Moor/ The New Dark Age" is a fourteen minute instrumental epic which, with its perfectly executed harpsichord, bells, finger picked acoustics and swathes of mellotron, brings to mind Mike Oldfield’s seminal "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommadawn". Instantly alive with what seems like several heartbreaking and ever so slightly sinister melodies at once the track shifts gear from rustic electronic splendour to fuzz guitar psyche-outs then into a brass interlude! Although there are many hints at prog with the shifting time signatures and reccurring motifs, this recalls more the dark whimsy of the Canterbury Scene, the offbeatness of Kevin Ayers, the sense of theme and drama of Mike Oldfield and the quaint English village elements of Caravan. It is at once breathtaking, otherworldly and deeply atmospheric. Indeed some of the parts would not be out of place soundtracking a seventies children's TV show such as "Children Of The Stones" or "The Owl Service"; there is a distinct sense of time and place to this album that is of the other, of a partially remembered memory of the past with its sepia colours and vintage sounds. Various analogue synths and slide guitar lead the song to a melancholy close, reminding this listener of "Ummagumma" era Floyd. As opening tracks go, it is ambitious yet hugely bewitching. The sheer creativity and ideas involved might be distracting were it not for the music being so timeless, effortlessly melodic and evocative.

"A Ghost Story for Summer" similarly sets out its stall with a carnivalesque organ waltz; a village fête or traveling fairground of sinister intention, filled with unsettling, wailing guitar and bells. The song’s truly haunting finale is a triumph; soaring church organ and recorder evoking a rural England now gone, the ghostly plainsong of something hidden and ancient. If the island band in "The Wicker Man" had invested in a couple of vintage synths rather than fiddle and guitar then the soundtrack to that film might have sounded like this. There is a hauntological element to The Ilk, a nostalgic sense to their music that will appeal to listeners of the Ghost Box label and bands such as Broadcast or The Advisory Circle. Indeed, "Powerplant", with its motorik, analogue heartbeat is an exhilarating race through Belbury Poly territory with foreboding bells and chimes combining with the sound of accelerating engines screaming below. It is quite simply one of the most exciting tracks I have heard this year. "Off Hogbens's Hill" opens with choir of mellotron angels, xylophone picking out a melancholy melody until some Persuaders-style harpsichord enters, adding a genuine air of unease and mystery to the track. Zither punctuates the cascading notes and melody; someone hire this band for the soundtrack of Ben Wheatley's next film, it would be a perfect fit. The song ends in a haze of sepia, vintage keyboards and John Barry intrigue.

Final track "Living by the Water"s bucolic bells, cymbal sweeps, off-kilter guitar blasts and demented merry-go-round comes over as a potential alternative theme song for macabre TV classic "Tales of the Unexpected". Genuinely disturbing in parts, its manic polka suggesting "Something Wicked This Way Comes" crossed with composer Lubos Fiser's finest moments. Indeed there is a sense of the gothic carnival of such Czech New Wave films as "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" that fits well with The Ilk's music; complex, unusual and strange yet also curiously beautiful and entrancing.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. It can be frustrating when you hear something so good that you fear it will not reach the ears of the many who will clearly adore it. Do not let this happen; The New Dark Age is here, embrace it with open arms.

Free Download here:

14 Sep 2014

Album Review: The Autumn Stone "Beautiful Freaks"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This little gem has sneaked out over the last few weeks or so with little in the way of fanfare. While this may seem initially unjust, it soon becomes apparent that the tone of "Beautiful Freaks" is so intimate, that any form of grand statement would be against its nature.

Recorded on an old reel to reel in the Catskill Mountains of New York by James Cassidy with the assistance of his partner Syd Lane, "Beautiful Freaks"is a lovely little record that deals with lofty, universal themes in a hushed and intimate fashion, forming an easy and solid bond with the listener.

"Beautiful Freaks" doesn't have a lot in common with the glossy psychedelia of 2014. Instead it nestles comfortably at the feet of albums like "The Soft Bulletin", "Deserter's Songs" and "Good Morning Spider" - classics of a certain vintage that scale near unreachable heights, and Cassidy and Lane sound perfectly natural and unforced in this stellar company.

Cassidy's arrangements fuse lo-fi Americana with appealingly wobbly, vintage keys to tap into what appears to an outsider to be an almost mythical American Gothic. Draped in a peculiar melancholy, these songs are often startlingly direct examples of outsider music, with "In Charge of Stars" wrestling its way to the top of the pile, followed very closely by simple hypnotic charms of the zen-like "The River Song".

Pretty marvelous, and best experienced alone and uninterrupted. Consider yourself advised.

12 Sep 2014

Album Review: Harry Manfredini "Friday The 13th" Original Score

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Available unabridged for the first time ever on vinyl, this is another welcome addition to Waxwork Records series of horror soundtrack reissues.

Both the film itself (which tanked critically, but was a box office smash), and Harry Manfredini's score were important formulative pieces for the burgeoning Slasher genre, which was about to hit its commercial peak.

While both are not particularly original, they borrowed elements from previous films and played them up to ridiculous extremes, creating and refining the conventions of the eighties slasher film in the process.

While other horror films on a limited budget were following in the footsteps of John Carpenter in using synthesizer to save a few bucks and create an ominous drone, Manfredini's score for "Friday The 13th" is a much more traditional affair. Utilising a small orchestra, Manfredini only uses occasional touches of synthesizer to add an eerie theremin like tone. More often than not, the shrieking, staccato strings of Bernard Hermann's "Psycho" score are the obvious touchstone, with Manfredini introducing the infamous, echoing whisper vocal treatment which went on to be a hallmark of the series. Stripped of its visuals, it's still extremely disquieting.

I'm very pleased, and quite surprised to see this reissued now. It's orchestral setting doesn't really place it firmly within the framework of the currently in vogue horror-synth craze, but for listeners who are more interested in the mood created and sustained, rather than the textures used to create it, this is pretty essential.

Pressed on 180 gram, deep, murky green vinyl and housed in a heavyweight gatefold sleeve featuring full artwork by Jay Shaw.

Friday The 13th - 1980 Original Score [VINYL] is available here.

11 Sep 2014

Album Review: "Kollektion 01: SKY RECORDS, Compiled by TIM GANE"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Excellent German experimental / Krautrock label Bureau B are continuing to branch out with this new series of compilations in the "Kollektion" series.

The first release in the series sees former Stereolab geezer Tim Gane (who is currently doing awesome, experimental things with his new outfit Cavern of Anti-Matter) raiding the archives of seventies / eighties krautrock / kosmische label Sky Records for a definitive portrait of a label beloved by collectors, but largely unknown outside of these circles.

Sky Records was founded in 1975 when Günter Körber quit his job at Metronome where he and Bruno Wendel had spent four years developing and managing the legendary BRAIN label. The material Körber featured on the Sky label largely orbited around the music of Cluster & Roedelius, and this collection showcases this with a synth-heavy selection of tunes that emphasises the label's kosmische direction and largely bypasses the motorik rhythms currently in vogue with German underground music of this era.

There's plenty of variety too. It's occasionally challenging; Moebius & Beerbohm's proto jungle / industrial "Doppelschnitt" is lengthy and repetitive, even in an edited form here which is less than half its normal length, but there's no argument over how groundbreaking it must have been at the time. Elsewhere Roedelius contributes the gorgeous, crystalline "Glaubersalz", which has seventies nature documentary written all over it, and seems frankly unbeatable. But beaten it is, by Günter Schickert's lovely, pastoral "In der Zeit", an odd, acoustic field recording which quietly takes charge and acts as a focal point on an excellent, varied set here.

I'll definitely be investigating Sky Record's output further after hearing this, so mission accomplished I guess! 

Available on CD, and vinyl.