2 Mar 2015

Swervedriver "I Wasn’t Born to Lose You"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Any longtime Swervedriver fan is bound to compare this brand new record with the English band’s back catalogue. Witness “Sci-Fi Flyer” or “Son of Mustang Ford” and compare that to the smoothed out tunes on this new release, “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You.” But make no mistake, this is still a very important band in the shoegaze/psych realm. Adam Franklin’s angular guitar playing and pleasant voice are much as they’ve always been. The tones are warm and mellifluous, and the production is tight. And the band’s great love for Television has never been more obvious. They not only covered “Days” on the B-side to “Setting Sun”, but the A-side is an obvious tribute to Television where the influence is clear! Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge trade licks much as Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine did in Television, one swooping in and another dropping back so seamlessly that it’s hard to discern who is playing what. That is the result of all the years of touring together, and makes the 18 years between albums (the last was 1998’s "99th Dream") seem like only a few years.

Opener “Autodidact” slays me with its killer melody and beautiful guitar work. Riffs thunder down on listener’s heads, only to end in shimmering notes shot through by the sun. “Last Rites” has some muscular runs tempered by its swooning melody. “For a Day Like Tomorrow” starts off somewhat flat but its instrumental interludes save the song from tedium. Particularly toward the end, Franklin pulls off some tasty licks. “Everso” launches out of the gate quietly brooding, but once again, the guitar work this band is known for adds a sonic filigree to this tune. “English Subtitles” is classic Swervedriver, and yet has a gentle heart beating at its core. “Red Queen Arms Race” is all about psychedelia, with wah-wah pedal and reverb drenched vocals. Album closer “I Wonder?” is a fitting end to what should be a satisfying listen for most Swervedriver fans.

I personally never grow tired of glorious guitar work coupled with pretty melodies and harmonies, effortlessly played by a band that are in total sync with one another. To this fan, it’s like coming home.

Available here on vinyl, and CD.

Nine Questions with Bat Faced Girl

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

Today..... Jim Crick from Bat Faced Girl.

What was the first record you bought? 
It was Appetite for Destruction by Guns and Roses when it was first released on tape. I used to have it playing in my old Morris Marina while I was cruising the countryside. It's hard to remember how massive that record was at the time. It's still damn brilliant.

What was the last record you bought? 
Albino Father - II. I got into Albino Father when they released AGE. I think I discovered it through Bill at THE SODA SHOP. They are pretty big on Doom but Albino Father straddle over into Garage and do some fine tunes.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I'm an award winning horror actor. :) A few years back I did a short film called BELLY OF THE WOLF and it's won several awards, including the British Horror Award in 2013. I got to go to the Empire at Leicester Square in London and see it screened. I landed the part from being in a band at a friend's wedding. I was very drunk, dressed as Keith Richards. The director was there and he said at that point that he knew I'd be up for the film, but his wife made him wait till the next day before he asked me.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Bobby Hecksher from the Warlocks. There's been some cross pollination already. I've met him a couple of times and he adapted one of my tunes and stuck it on one of his albums. That's all I'm saying about that... I'm pretty chuffed and anyone that knows my old work should have worked that out already. He's a nice guy and I love his new album Skull Lover. It was great to see him back in London last year on his birthday. It's been difficult for him over the last few years, a bit like me.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
My friends THE BARON FOUR. They made a great album last year. 

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
CD... I love packaging but I don't like scratchy vinyl. MP3's serve a purpose but I can hear the frequency cut offs. You're better off with FLAC but not too many gadgets support playing FLAC. It's a bummer.

Tell us about your latest release.
I released WAY OUT this year. It's an 11 track album of Psych, Garage and Blues. There's a lot of fuzz on it. I've been hand building fuzzes, so they all got on the record. That, and my tendon problems have eased a bit so there's more guitar on it than ATROPHE. The big blues tune "WHEN THE DEVIL COMES" is just a guitar / keyboard / bass solo war.  I grew up playing blues bass so a blues revival is not a big surprise, it's always been there like rock and roll, it just sneaks out every now and then. I really like the garage on the record, stupid little riffs played loud hahaha.... Chris taught me that.

What's next for you, musically? 
I'm starting a garage funk band... I'm not saying anymore at the minute but it's sounding really good.

What's for dinner?
Curry... I may put the ghost chilli's in. I'm feeling brave.


Jysus "Love, Nature & Disasters"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Factually I can't tell you much about Spanish band Jysus. Their LP "Love, Nature & Disasters" arrived in the post out of the blue with a brief press release linking band members to Wild Honey, Hollywood Sinners and Gamonides - none of which I've heard of over on the other side of the world here in New Zealand. So not much to go on then, but on an album like this, the music is more than capable of speaking for itself.

Jysus prove once again, that the best Cosmic American music of the last twenty years or so is being made outside of the U.S.A. An innovative, dynamic rearrangement of Paul Simon's "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall" is likely to be the drawcard for many listeners here, but those that stick around will find eight originals that maintain a very high standard indeed.

Like others with a similar mindset (Beachwood Sparks and Kontiki spring to mind), Jysus use lessons learnt from the Byrds as a launching pad rather than a template. "The Darkest Wine" is a good example of this; starting with moody, minor key jangle which sounds like it's been lifted straight from the first side of "Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde", it's soon elevated by peals of fluent, echo-laden guitar with a distinctly contemporary edge. There's plenty of twang too, with the Tex Mex flavoured "El Perro" being a right irresistible knees-up. But jangly folk-rock is the dominant sound, and these lads do it well, whether they're focusing on the moody minor-key stuff or upbeat shuffles.

Available digitally, or on vinyl here:

1 Mar 2015

Nine Questions with Matt Rendon (The Resonars / The Butterscotch Cathedral)

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

Today....Matt Rendon from the Resonars & the Butterscotch Cathedral .

What was the first record you bought? 
The first I can remember is Wild Thing by the Troggs.

What was the last record you bought? 
The Abigails - Tundra.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
Pretty bad temper in the studio, but only with my own stuff.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Keith Moon. Can you imagine having that guy drumming on one of your songs?!

Who should we be listening to right now? 
The Electric Magpie, Tele Novella, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, the Wrong Words.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 

Tell us about your latest release.
The Butterscotch Cathedral is an experiment in which I had my friend Chris Ayers write lyrics and then I built songs around them. It opened up some avenues for different sounds - lots of Moog, organ, and special effects. Both sides are one continuous suite (with the exception of the side 2 opener, Loud Heavy Sun). I suppose it's psychedelic, but it covers a lot of ground.

What's next for you, musically? 
Recording the next LP. It'll be either the Resonars, or under my given name. Thinking about putting the whole Resonars thing to bed actually.

What's for dinner?
Salad from spinach grown in my backyard!


28 Feb 2015

The Myrrors "Arena Negra"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Following their 2013 debut, "Burning Circles in the Sky", (recorded sometime in 2008), the Myrrors offer-up their second proper release, "Arena Negra", in late March from Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Even if you’re familiar with the Myrrors’ previous releases, "Arena Negra" will surprise you. It certainly surprised me. The Tucson, AZ band has delivered here an impressive talent for transcendence, both as a band in relation to their previous incarnations as well as sonically. "Arena Negra" is a four track, 40+ minute journey that explores an American Southwest brand of mystic rock, eerie while tapping, too, the otherworldly sight of disappearing desert horizons, especially early in the morning, or near dusk.

Apparent from the beginning, "Arena Negra" has more atmosphere than any of the band’s previous releases – and most other records for that matter. The diverse instrumentation is distinct across every track; each element is given space, building what, in the end, is an incredible sense of landscape. Listening to "Juanita Laguna Duerme Con Los Grillos", the mysterious, slow-building second track, one feels able to uncannily pinpoint the location of each sound in a room. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of sounds here, too. Like the other three tracks, there’s an apparent cultivation of this space and atmosphere that adds to the entire listening experience a sense of frenetic realism.

Like Australia’s Dirty Three, the Myrrors use stringed instruments like they’re meant to be destroyed, pushed to their absolute limit. The rough bowed drones that begin "Arena Negra" set the tone for the record. The Myrrors’ concern seems to be the attainment not of perfection but expression; each song, whether four or twenty minutes long, encapsulates a mood, an idea, or a place and sets fire to it – complete with everything you’d expect (improvised guitar, free form and eclectic rhythms, chants, chimes, horns, pulsing strings and organs) – to see what we can see within it.

The epic closer, "The Forward Path", is a master work, using the same sonic aesthetics of the other tracks but dovetailing them into an always-interesting and heavy composition that reveals an appreciation for arrangement. Though a bit longer than twenty minutes, "The Forward Path" feels somehow streamlined, too; it doesn’t meditate too long upon any section of the song without the addition or variation of sounds. In a recent interview on this same site, Nik Rayne suggested another record was in the works. Meanwhile, they’re playing Levitation (Austin Psych Fest) in May and planning a tour. Prep your music playing device of choice for this one – and, hopefully soon, more like it.

"Arena Negra" is available for pre-order here in almost any form imaginable and various colors.

27 Feb 2015

Francis Monkman & Paul Hart "Energism" & "Futurism"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Who knows whether it has anything to do with Luke Vibert's excellent "Nuggets Vol. 3" selection (available here ridiculously cheaply at the moment), or whether the powers that be have just decided that it's time, but the folks at Dutton Vocalion have turned their attentions to the contents of the excellent Bruton and Chappell music libraries with an exciting batch of reissues, all making their first appearances on CD.

Rather than focus solely on the funky side of these two catalogues, the first batch of releases in this series seems to be selected to highlight the wide range of styles and moods that were required, whether that be drama, jazz and romance, spy & crime suspense, or futuristic synthesizer opuses, which Monkman and Hart offer in the pick of the series so far. (I say "so far", hoping there will be more to come, but can't confirm that will be the case).

"Energism" & "Futurism" make a fine pairing, focusing as they do, on pairing forward-thinking synthesizer tones with a conventional drums / bass rhythm section. Names like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream are bandied about in the press release information. Fair enough too, but that doesn't take into account the distinct Englishness of these pieces, which tie in far more closely to Ghost Box's aesthetic, especially the public service announcement / nature films schtick of Jon Brooks' Advisory Circle, which is itself heavily influenced by this era.

And while Monkman and Hart may have similar approaches to arrangement on these albums, they have distinctly different compositional sensibilities, allowing for a greater range than one would expect to encounter from one composer alone. Originally recorded in 1979 and 1981, these releases share a fuzzy VHS view of the future which sounds very much of its time, but also prescient - perhaps not in terms of evoking a realistic vision of the future, but certainly as to how various strands of electronic music would evolve.

Of the two, Monkman's "Energism" has the biggest tunes, with tracks like "Accomplishments of Man" having an epic sweep which effortlessly conjures images of Stonehenge, Incan ruins and other mysterious, slightly otherworldly sites. If Arthur C. Clarke didn't use this piece in his TV series, he certainly should have.

Hart on the other hand provides more variety with some quite suspenseful pieces, as well as some gorgeous tracks with extensive fretless bass which makes this go down very smoothly indeed.

Excellent sleeve notes too on this release, with an overview of the Bruton label itself, as well as features on the two featured composers / bandleaders.

This is an essential purchase. Those who have already delved into Library music will be well aware of the quality of these two albums, but fans of Boards of Canada, Ghost Box Records, and synth based electronica in general are in for a real treat here.

"Energism" & "Futurism" (and the other titles in this series) are available here at a bargain price - particularly bearing in mind how much the original LPs of most of these titles go for!

Nine Questions with Keith Seatman

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

Today.... Hampshire based Hauntology / synth wizard Keith Seatman, whose album "Around the Folly & Down Hill", we obsessed over recently.

What was the first record you bought? 
Sparks This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us. Saw them on Top of the Pops and thought it was the best thing ever, and went out the following Saturday to buy it. I still have it as well.

What was the last record you bought? 
The last music I bought was The Souless Party Archive Material 98-02 and a 2nd hand vinyl album, Birthday by The Peddlers.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
In 1979 I was in a band called the Marilyn Monroes who released 1 Cassette album. I found out years later that Brian from Reneldo and The Loaf had a copy. Brian told me that it had inspired Renaldo to do a cassette release themselves (more on that here).

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
I really can not answer this question that well. I am normally just grateful to work with anyone. If anyone will have me.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Everything......if possible at all times. I still get a mad rush when I hear something I really like. Recently I Love You All from the Film Frank sung by Michael Fassbender. It really is a wonderful song.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
Vinyl because I love the whole buying and rummaging through racks of records process, and then of course holding the cover in your hands and slowly getting the album out of its sleeve. I have lots of CDs but just do not get the same buzz flicking through shelves and rows of plastic boxes. MP3s are convenient and also very handy.

Tell us about your latest release. 
Around the Folly and Downhill was released in May 2014 and has been a slow but steady plodder. Have had some fantastic reviews/feedback for the album, and even got played on BBC Radio 3 (which was a real shock). The album has been described as psychedelic, pastoral, hauntological, creepy, odd, downright unnerving. I think a couple of those words cropped up in a School Report about me once.

What's next for you, musically? 
The new album should be out by Sept 2015 (track excerpts on soundcloud). The new album has 3 tracks with voice and vocals by singer/songwriter Douglas E Powell. I would describe it as being a bit clunky, disjointed, noisy, and quite distorted in places.

What's for dinner? 
A Curry, always. Followed by a Vodka and coke with ice of course.


26 Feb 2015

Six Organs Of Admittance "Hexadic"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Six Organs Of Admittance, the solo project of visionary guitarist Ben Chasny, have fearlessly journeyed the outer reaches of psych via early albums such as the John Fahey fingerpicking mysticism of ‘For Octavio Paz’ to the more recent smouldering full on guitar howl and explosive work on display on ‘Shelter From The Ash’ and ‘Sun Awakens’. A true maverick pursuing his own unique and exploratory furrow, Chasny’s work is never anything short of electrifying and utterly absorbing. Indeed, this writer remembers a hushed crowd one cold night at a Six Organ’s show in Glasgow literally swooning at every guitar flurry and angelic vocal swoop that emitted from the man himself. Latest opus ‘Hexadic’ turns things on their head once again, into freeform and furious guitar noise with less structure but no less intensity or direction. Indeed Chasny has used a very deliberate and personally devised form of improvisation, as the press release states; 'Over the last two years, Ben assembled a comprehensive system of musical composition. Designed to free sound and language from rational order and replace calculation with indeterminacy, the Hexadic System is a catalyst to extinguish patterns and generate new means of chord progressions and choices... this was the goal: to use the System to make heavy music with as few "heavy" signifiers as possible. The ones that are left: Volume. Distortion. Impact!'

'The Ram' begins by casting a sombre and reflective mood, its echoed, Duane Eddy style guitars recalling earlier Chasny forays such as 'The Desert Is a Circle’ (from ‘Sun Awakens’) as jazz drumbeats swagger and stagger behind the growing atmosphere of dread and tension. 'Wax Chance' follows, corrosive guitar hissing and spitting out monolithic slabs of pure white noise. More akin to Chasny’ s occasional link ups with psych monsters Comets On Fire, the ever present crackle and bleed from the amp is hugely thrilling. There is nothing polished here, this music is for real. Drums and bass follow low in the mix, a processionary and sullen beat occasionally exploding into frantic action. 'Maximum Hexadic' picks up where the previous track left off, manic riffing and solos bending and merging into growling noise and electric howls, Chasny’ s vocals hidden under layer upon layer of feedback and fuzz. The veritable calm after the storm, 'Hesitant Grand Light' presents an almost spaghetti western aura, Spanish acoustic guitar underlying a reverbed electric that wails like an oncoming steam train. The tension is palatable; freeform this might be but cleverly and carefully paced and articulated it certainly is. A widescreen mood is conjured; you can almost feel the heat of the sun.

'Hollow River' opens like Black Sabbath at their most malevolent, huge swathes of funereal paced darkness bursting forth and fizzling with pure energy. Reminiscent of Earth (though less tightly controlled) this is the sound of the world ending through one man’s guitar. 'Sphere Path Code C' continues the heaviness though throws in Chasny’ s broken up and hallucinatory vocals to disorientating effect, not unlike 'Hairway To Steven' era Butthole Surfers or the work of early Pain Teens. There is something visceral at work here, this is Chasny’ s muse stripped back to pure noise and expression rather than the precision and considered layering of earlier albums. This is his soul pouring forth in white hot expression, the unconscious becoming conscious in the form of unadulterated guitar freak-outs. The mood quietens with ‘Future Verbs', a doom filled and echo laden piece of black hearted psych which, sounding not unlike Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most barren, drips dread and despair across the scorched wasteland. 'Vestige' builds from this wreckage, the metallic hum and drone of the guitar like a choir from hell, a swarm of electric bees. To close, 'Guild's titanic guitar riffs scream across deceptively laid back and improvised drums, sounding not unlike a eulogy for the earth itself in some kind of death throes. This music is monumental, the sheer noise and scale emotionally overpowering and occasionally overwhelming. But go with it, let it catch you in its flow and go with it and you are in for a truly immersive and genuine experience. This is music with its heart bare, tapping into something collective and subconscious.

Six Organs are no-one's band but their own. They will follow their muse and this album takes them down one particular strand of expression. At other times they are melodic, gentle, spiritual or virtuoso. Here they are alive with the pure dread and joy of existence. You can be too, make sure you get hold of this album.

"Hexadic" is available here.

Nine Questions with Klaus Morlock

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

Today.... Klaus Morlock.

What was the first record you bought?
Animals by Pink Floyd.

What was the last record you bought? 
The soundtrack to "The Duke of Burgundy" by Cat's Eyes.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I am fascinated by the word "umbrella" and by umbrellas themselves.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Steve Jansen. I've always loved his drumming and his general approach to rhythm.

Who should we be listening to right now?

Vinyl, CD or digital?
All three can sound good, but it's vinyl for me.

Tell us about your latest release.
I'm working on a concept album called "The Child Garden", which loosely tells, over the course of about 15 short pieces, the story of a group of adults falling under the malign influence of a shadowy mystic. It's a mixture of pastoral electronics and deep, menacing tape-saturated textures. I'm obsessed with the project.

What's next for you, musically?
The sequel to "The Child Garden" has already been planned. It'll consist of two synth-driven, echo-enveloped, eighteen-minute freak-outs.

What's for dinner?
Cold noodles.


The Virgance "Hiko Shrine"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Formerly of Ripley and Loveless, Nathan Smith is steering his own boat now as the Virgance, a one man maelstrom capable of both extreme shoegaze squall, and moments of serene beauty.

Smith's compositional approach has an almost ambient quality, with layers of processed guitar ebbing and flowing over pounding, insistent drums. Instrumental shoegaze he calls it, and I certainly couldn't argue with that description, although the echo laden guitars on tracks like "Propulsion Lab Part I" also remind this listener favourably of unbeatable post-rock titans Jakob. These layering techniques give an initial impression of a wall of noise, but repeated plays reveal naggingly hooky melody lines lurking just below the surface, distorted by, and sometimes created by the echo effect. Smith also has an unerring ear for crescendo building, releasing into calmness at exactly the right moment for maximum impact, creating a sense of negative space which is sometimes as overwhelming as the preceding storm.

The consistency of mood and lack of vocals throughout "Hiko Shrine" may not offer enough variety for everyone, but then again you don't create instrumental shoegaze music to reach a mainstream audience. Listeners more attuned to Smith's mindset however, will discover that the initial, nagging sense of sameness evaporates after a few listens. Rather than separate "Hiko Shrine" into its constituent parts, it's best to approach it as one lengthy, transportative piece, full of subtle twists and turns which exert an addictive pull, while retaining an elusive quality that helps maintain an element of mystery.

Ideally suited for headphone listening, I'd recommend immersing yourself fully in this one, with no outside stimuli to distract from the beautiful, ferocious world that Smith has created.

"Hiko Shrine" is available as a name your price download here: