26 Nov 2015

Nous Sommes Paris

While we have no desire to introduce politics and religion into the mix here at the Active Listener, sometimes these things can't (and shouldn't) be ignored.

So calling in a few favours, and generally working ourselves into a bit of a tizzy, we've spent the last week furiously emailing around and compiling this massive, 35 track collection, which is yours for a steal at only $10 (or more if you can afford it). All proceeds will go to the French Red Cross in their efforts to aid the survivors as well as the families of the victims of those affected by the incidents in Paris on Friday the 13th of November.

Thanks first and foremost to the artists who have kindly contributed to this collection (as well as their labels, management and publishing companies). We'd have nothing to offer without their generous contributions, and they've been very patient with my erratic correspondence. They've provided some great music, much of which is previously unreleased or very hard to come by. We're humbled by their generosity.

And thanks also to Matt Talbot for his thoughtful and tasteful cover image.

Here's the impressive track listing:

1. Courtney Barnett - Ode To Odetta 02:46 2. The Sufis - Different Views 02:42 3. The Phoenix Foundation - I Want More 04:19 4. The Limiñanas - Wunderbar 02:31 5. WJLP - Sunrise 03:21 6. Violet Swells - Gravity Wins Again 03:08 7. Sudden Death of Stars - The Void 04:13 8. Kontiki Suite - I Wish 03:20 9. Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders - Misty Dreamer 02:32 10. The Green Pajamas - The Jailer's Song 03:59 11. Soft Hearted Scientists - Midnight Mutinies (Home Demo) 05:15 12. Brown Recluse - Silver Lake 03:51 13. Wilding - Evalina 03:14 14. Eerie Wanda - Volcano Lagoon 02:54 15. Bat Faced Girl - Straight In My Heart 01:54 16. The Magnetic Mind - Stay Away From The Door 03:01 17. Sky Picnic - Upon Further Reflection 03:23 18. Eric Lichter - Slicing Through My Thumb 04:22 19. Nick J. Morfitt - Embryo 04:13 20. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - The Wild Ride of Ichabod Crane (Dandelion Radio Version) 02:52 21. Cornershop - Let The Good Time Roll 02:26 22. The Luck of Eden Hall - Twelve 05:09 23. Kanoi - Mountains Of The Sun 06:45 24. Orgasmo Sonore - French Gainsbourg 03:27 25. Alasdair Roberts and Debbie Armour - Come, My Darling Polly (2015 Version) 04:07 26. Emily Jones - Light Appearing 01:45 27. The Diamond Family - A Raven 05:43 28. The Ilk - Jacques Bonsergent 02:50 29. Katje Janisch - The Yew Tree (Resurrection) 04:17 30. The Sound Of The Shires - Judy Fly 03:58 31. The Sigmaticle Tour Green - Star Gazer 02:57 32. Keith Seatman - It’s Now Time to Let Go 04:47 33. Polypores - Man With Antlers 06:08 34. Jim Griffin - After a Walk in The Country 03:53 35. The Hare And The Moon - Come Unto The Corn 04:26

Please give generously and share around as you can. Merci beaucoup.

25 Nov 2015

Gareth Davies - Dawnlight Reflections

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While there can be no doubt that the internet has caused a lot of damage to the music industry as a whole, it's also provided 'the little guy' with numerous opportunities that he wouldn't have had in the old-fashioned industry; an industry where it would be unthinkable for a New Zealand based writer to be covering a Welsh artist on an Austrian label, yet that's what we're looking at today.

To the artist on hand, Gareth Davies is an ex-metaller who now makes vintage sounding acoustic folk music very much in the mold of Nick Drake and John Martyn, although Davies material is all performed solo with just an acoustic guitar and his own double tracked vocal, which betrays a more contemporary edge that often reminds me of the vocals from Candidate's unimpeachable "Wicker Man" tribute "Nuada".

"Dawnlight Reflections" is very much a continuation of last year's excellent "The Spirit Garden", and while you'd expect two solo acoustic releases in such a short space of time to start sounding samey, a couple of listens will certainly show that this isn't the case. The songs themselves are strong, and lack obvious hooks, relying instead on Davies' dexterous guitar playing (the ghost of "Pink Moon" looms large over "Spectral Horizon"), with its lovely sustained notes, and carefully applied vibrato, not to mention his soothing, brittle voice.

While it'd certainly be interesting to hear Davies' songs augmented with some double bass, and drums - given the full Ryley Walker treatment - this particaular set of songs aren't found wanting for the absence of this treatment, with Davies' hushed vocals suiting the intimate setting perfectly.

Another extremely strong release from Davies. If you're a fan of the artists mentioned within, vintage progressive-folk, or even the quieter moments on Opeth's albums, you'll find much to enthral here.

The lovely CD version is available here (as is a bargain package including the also essential "The Spirit Garden"). You can also download the album on a 'name your price' basis here:

23 Nov 2015

This Week's Quick Links

After a five year break The Coral have a brand new album available to pre-order.

The Resonars previously unreleased second album is now available on Bandcamp.

Here's a bunch of great clips of the first Fairport Convention line-up performing live for TV. Time Will Show The Wiser. Morning Glory. Reno Nevada.

Emitt Rhodes is crowdfunding a new album.

Lush are set to release new music.

Here's the new David Bowie single.

Jarvis Cocker and members of Portishead and Goldfrapp are taking part in a live tribute to puppet master Gerry Anderson.

22 Nov 2015

Cumbias Chichadélicas - Peruvian Psychedelic Chicha

By Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Originating in the coastal region of Columbia, Cumbia music spread across the South American continent, and even up into Mexico, mutating and changing with each mile. It’s a music that was made for dancing… with a brisk 2/4 time signature all but forcing the listener to move. And, sometime in the late 60s in Peru, Cumbia mutated into Chicha: the psychedelic cousin of Cumbia that can be heard in this collection.

Although not overtly psychedelic, Peruvian Chica can change your headspace very quickly. It’s all rock instrumentation, with a strong emphasis on guitars, and the occasional waves of echo and wah-wah giving the music its psych flavor.

Sure, we do hear the occasional horn section like you might expect to hear in some Mexican mariachi bands, or some wood block percussion, or even some slithery tango rhythms. But, even when making its deepest ingresses into more-traditional South American sounds, the music stays psychedelic. Just listen to the heavily processed lead banjo on “Mi Morena Rebekde” by Eusebio y Su Banjo for a perfect example of a how the two traditions meld into one; it brings to the music a sound that is simultaneously of both traditions, and of neither.

If you are one who is turned off by foreign-language singing, there is a little bit of that here, for sure. And you should know that. However, the collection is primarily instrumental. And, with the recordings re-mastered from the original tapes, the instruments all sound great: guitars leap out, percussion pops, and the stereo separation makes for excellent headphone listening.

While, sadly, this reviewer was not able to get his hands on an actual physical copy of the deluxe vinyl reissue*, I do have access to PDF versions of the liner notes and packaging, and I can state with certainty that there is a wealth of information to read, and many gorgeous photographs and artwork to behold within the double LP gatefold package.

It’s a bounty of both great music, and of great history. Dig in!

Available here (UK) and here (US).

20 Nov 2015

Robert Forster - Songs to Play

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'd be hard pressed to pick an Australian band with a catalogue more essential than that of the Go-Betweens, although the Triffids and the Bad Seeds come close. And while the sweet pop hooks of Grant McLennan may be what initially grabbed my attention, it was the clever, wordy songs of Robert Forster that really made me stick around and really dig in.

Forster takes his time these days - this is only his second album since McLennan's passing in 2006 - but he's one of the few songwriters of his era who still actively contributes to his legacy with each release, rather than simply using that legacy to ensure a few sales to a dwindling fan base.

Beyond catchy as hell opener "Learn to Burn", "Songs to Play" isn't an immediate album, but fans know to expect this. Forster's songs develop, and wind their way into the listener's consciousness through a witty, Dylanesque turn of phrase here, a repetitive VU style riff there, with hooks that gradually insinuate themselves, until you discover that every note on the album serves a purpose and fits exactly where it should as part of Forster's masterplan. This being the case I was a little underwhelmed on first listen, but a week later I was convinced "Songs to Play" was one of the best thing's Forster's ever done - an opinion I seem to share (see Uncut's review for example).

Forster works best with others, and on these recordings he's joined by a band that includes members of Australian psychedelic rockers the John Steel Singers (who also co-produce), as well as members of his own immediate family, and he's never sounded more confident or at ease.

"Learn to Burn" is an early attention grabber, but there's plenty more to raise eyebrows, including "A Poet Walks" which sounds very much like a "Forever Changes" outtake with its propulsive acoustic guitars and simple, lyrical trumpet solo, and "Let Me Imagine You", a jangly nostalgia fest which wittily examines the mystique-destroying side effects of the social media age.

Forster's at the top of his game here, maturing gracefully, with even the more slight numbers boasting memorable guitar hooks, and the sort of sly, grin-inducing lyrical asides that you'd expect to find on a latter day Dylan album. I was hanging on every word.

For those yet to investigate Forster's work beyond the Go-Betweens, this is the place to start.

Vinyl and CD available here (UK) and here (US).

19 Nov 2015

Video Premiere - Lovebyrd "Shot From The Sun"

We first covered German psych-pop band LOVEBYRD back in February, when their debut was released on cassette and digitally on Ongakubaka Records.

They've attracted a lot of attention since then, and have just released their album on vinyl through new Netherlands based label Hairy Records.

Today we're happy to be premiering the video for their excellent single "Shot From The Sun" (which you can still download as part of the Active Listener Sampler 29). 

The video was directed & edited by artist Yoshi Sodeoka, who has previously directed videos for a wide range of artists including Tame Impala (Elephant!), Yeasayer and Psychic TV.

Check out the video here:

Vic Mars - The Land & The Garden

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Hold the front page! We have the latest of late entries for the coveted record of the year in 2015. Read on dear listener, read on…

Clay Pipe Music is a micro-label run by the outrageously talented illustrator, Frances Castle from her base somewhere in East London. She is incredibly discerning in her choice of artist to champion and is willing to match their artistic endeavours with her own, creating the most sublimely beautiful packaging for their art to be received by the wider world. Therefore, to be on Clay Pipe means you are special (for instance Plinth, Jon Brooks and Sharron Krauss all undoubtedly fall into that category) and so I was understandably stoked to receive a copy of this to review.

So to the record in question. Vic Mars has previously been responsible for composing some fine hauntological/electronica pieces of work, all analog synths and flashbacks to schools programmes of the 70’s and 80’s. Much of it is great and you should check out his bandcamp page for evidence of my truthsay.

However, “The Land and the Garden” is an altogether different beast. This is hugely ambitious and beautifully realised, neo-classical electronic/organic chamber music with mellotron (and associated ‘natural’ tape hiss) at the centre of much of the action going on. This is the sound of memory – a psycho-geographical survey of his British homeland largely dreamt up when Vic was way out east in Japan. Part real, part myth, part imagined and refracted back through the looking glass of time. This is no derivative, niche hauntology offering.

The record (it's out on vinyl) is a complex concept piece that operates on several levels, to create a mood of yearning and barely hidden nostalgia for an England that may in truth never have existed. It’s a collection of sonic essays that drink from a hugely diverse number of rich musical fountains such as early 20th Century UK classical composers like Vaughan Williams or Benjamin Britten - the spectre of ‘The Lark Ascending’ is never too far away from my thoughts when listening to this record, or the earlier ground-breaking work of Dvorak and Mahler. There are also references to the post-war optimism that filtered its way into the documentary soundtracks of the 1950’s and 1960’s; and even 70’s BBC TV kids favourites Fingerbobs and Bagpuss. The other influence would appear to be Brian Eno and his run of plainitive piano/keyboard led ambient records from the late 1970’s as often delicate and contemplative piano figures drive much of what is contained in these grooves. As a series of musical reference points this is the equivalent of a ‘Royal Flush’ to my ears and the alchemy exercised by Vic Mars in synthesising this into a coherent whole is impressive. It’s a delicious melange of styles that intoxicates the listener and evokes strong non-specific memories of time and place. Its gentle but never soporific; sentimental but never maudlin. It's a beaut.

Vic Mars invites you to come along with him on a journey across the ‘lost’ countryside and coast of Britain in all its colour and grandeur; its agriculture and beauty. Picking out highlights from the 14 wonderful vignettes within is a fairly pointless task - it most definitely should be heard in its totality but since you asked, “Villages, hamlets and fetes” with its lovely circular mellotron motif with ‘oboe’ counterpoint and major chord changes is a particular joy. You can almost smell the country air oozing from the speakers. “Butterflies, bees and other insects” is a distant relative of Belbury Poly’s “Geography of Peace” with its flutes and acoustic guitar strumming leading us out across the countryside, past the old church and into the mind meadow. Lovely.

The mournful, closing “Bracken and grassland” with its dreamlike piano figure and sympathetic (synthetic?) vibraphone and oboe accompaniment is exquisite. As it subsides into silence we look up to see that the blackbirds have gone off to roost, the tractor is back in the shed and the sun has disappeared behind the distant, rolling hills.

“The Land and the Garden” is a wonderful achievement - a beam of sunlight through a broken cloud mass, a field of reeds swaying gently in a meadow lea, an acknowledgement that life may be slightly absurd but it is ultimately a pursuit that can still beguile and hold many treasures. Vic Mars is in a beautiful place out in the country. Share in his wonder.

As with all Clay Pipe releases it is strictly limited to 300 numbered copies so the advice is to not hang about. Available from the Clay Pipe website or sympathetic stockists.

18 Nov 2015

The Fresh and Onlys - Early Years Anthology

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

San Francisco garage rockers The Fresh and Onlys have unearthed a collection of oldies for our listening pleasure, Recording now on Castle Face, fans should know what to expect with this release. Lo-fi garage rock with trippy elements and a wall of reverb, along with well-executed and fun songs. The band refers to this as a collection of basement tapes, so let’s run with that. I have enjoyed the past few albums from these guys, but have not delved deeply into their catalogue. I suspect you can drop the needle anywhere, play spot the influence, or point to another song that resembles these early recordings. Or, like me, you could just enjoy it as a standalone release without a frame of reference.

Starting with “Tongue in Cheek” with some bottom dwelling guitar, it morphs into a cool garage riff on the bridge. And then we have the organ-driven “Don’t Look Down”, which is one of my favorites here. “Seven Directions” is joined by harmonica a few minutes in, along with some fun harmonies, and must be a treat live. “Summer Wheels” sounds like a great lost 60s tune from a Nuggets collection, while “Sunglasses” beckons us down to the beach. “I’m a Puppet” has some way cool harmonies and some trippy elements, and “Deviants Within” is even crazier, with all sorts of studio trickery and slightly creepy voices streaming through the mix. “Ooh I Got Got” actually reminds me of Spirit, mostly due to the similarity to Randy California’s playing. “Stranger In My House” is also great fun, which leads up to the final track, “Pile of Bones”. It moves a bit slower, with some hazy psych blues throughout.

Recommended for all fans of garage rock who enjoy a bit of silliness thrown in.

Available here (US) and here (UK).

Wanna hear it? You can stream the whole thing here at COS.

17 Nov 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 38

Here's this month's sampler, featuring some of our favourite tracks from albums we've reviewed this past month, as well as a few surprises, including the premiere of Garden Gate's "Moonchild", from their forthcoming album which we are very, very excited about.

This month we feature the art of Fredrik Wandem on the sleeve, and the following fab tracks:

1. Garden Gate - Moonchild 03:09 2. Moonwood - Trans Mojave Express 04:40 3. The Seventh Cyrkle - Beginning...The Seventh Cyrkle 03:03 4. Verma - Kaskal / The Journey 03:12 5. Lovebyrd - Magnetic Levitation 02:59 6. French Exit - Glass Doors 02:34 7. The Wellgreen - Summer Rain 03:08 8. Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders - Yesterday's A Waste Of Time 06:32 9. Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet - Headways 05:19 10. Mystic Brew - Space Is The Place to Be 05:23 11. The Dead Astronaut - Skyboat Reprise 06:52 12. The Roaring 420s - Keep Me Sane, Mary Jane 05:16 13. Maddy Marsan - Armour 04:22 14. Blind Slime - A Place Elf-Haunted 02:44 15. Radar Men From The Moon - Neon 11:16

Free downloads welcome (as always) and any donations very gratefully accepted towards our running costs. Get it here:

Verma - Mul.Apin

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Verma’s “Sunrunner” (2014) put Chicago-based space rockers, Verma, on my mental map. Since then – along with instrumentalist / vocalist Whitney Johnson’s project, Matchess – my copy has been subjected to daily repeats. Fortunately, the band already had a few releases, fueling a stronger affection for their often improvised records, high quality experimentation, and general blurring of synth-heavy – and occasionally just regular heavy – psych, shoegaze, and Krautrock aesthetics. This month, Verma – once again, by way of the great Trouble in Mind Records – unveils “Mul.Apin,” which is a sort of return for the band, finding itself again pounding through long-form compositions and favoring mood, atmosphere, texture, rhythm over traditional structure – though, even within these structures, their in-studio improvisation sounds untethered, while “Sunrunner” put a larger emphasis on song structure and Johnson’s voice (see, in particular, “Chrome). Composed of five long takes – Side B is a single, sixteen minute track, “Gal.Damhara / Last.Battle” – “Mul.Apin” has much more in common with their Trouble in Mind debut, “Coltan” (2013).

Like most of Veram’s releases, there’s a consistency that makes the album cohere in a way that many do not. According to TiM’s write up, “Mul.Apin” sets forth to do this a bit more purposefully than the last, confirming a listener’s suspicion that each track is plotted carefully. Mul.Apin is the conventional name given to the Babylonian star maps for astrology and astronomy, so each track acts, at least conceptually, as a mile marker against the void of space. Of course, in the end, these are simply wonderful excursions into sonic richness, but, if it helps to understand them otherwise, there’s a truth to that as well. So let “Nerebu / Overture” build and the motorik “Kaskal / The.Journey” pulse on.

As has become expected of Verma and Trouble in Mind Records, this one is highly recommended. 

“Mul.Apin” is available directly from Trouble in Mind Records webstore, or from Amazon US or UK.

For those readers who are looking for an introduction, check out the band’s Bandcamp page for a few excellent “name your price” or free downloads and streams of earlier releases.

And here's a sample of one of "Mul.Apin"s tracks: