30 Nov 2013

Raising Holy Sparks "A Mendicant Hymnal" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

David Colohan’s project Raising Holy Sparks have been quietly but prolifically creating affecting, bewitching music that has previously seen the light of day on various limited CD runs; however only recently have several of their releases have made it onto bandcamp for download. One hopes that a wider audience can now take notice; deservedly so as their music is both ambitious and widescreen in its intent. A member of Ireland’s finest wyrd folkers United Bible Studies, director of Agitated Radio Pilot and erstwhile collaborator with both composer Richard Moult (who returns the favour by appearing here and reworking some earlier tracks) and Plinth’s Michael Tanner (also present), Colohan is one of the underground’s busiest yet most unassuming musicians.
Originally released on the Deep Water Acres label, 'A Mendicant Hymnal' is deceptively gentle, quiet yet equally organic and powerful; indeed at times the songs are breathtaking in their sheer beauty. Essentially a soundtrack to a travelogue, the album opens with the creaking and scratched drones of ‘A Stretch of Haunted Road’, the open horizon of the land ahead buzzing with frayed guitar and strings. ‘Rio De Las Anima Perdidas’ melts sunset-like, the looped harmonium and glissandos providing an eerie loveliness that should really be soundtracking a Werner Herzog film; indeed Popol Vuh’s work provides a useful reference point for Raising Holy Sparks as, similar to Vuh, the music herein is almost religious in its solemnity and grace. This is a hymnal as the album title suggests; a prayer to the landscape and its sense of isolation. The ghostly ‘Within the Painted Desert’ echoes with tension; the strings crying out over Moult’s crescending piano, the insect buzz of distorted guitar growing until it consumes the track. The twenty minute ‘Meteors over the Mesa’ is a monolithic and melancholy piece that blurs into haze and wonder. This is music to dream by.
‘Bright Angel Trail’ is a heavenly choir of electronics and mellotron; its glacial sadness is genuinely moving. Raising Holy Sparks’ music needs space and patience but is ultimately rewarding; pay attention and this is some of the most delicate and heart rending sound out there. ‘At The Confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah’ is a hushed piano and guitar piece that allows for breath in between the shimmering and gliding drones of the rest of the album while the scraping and swelling of ‘Plains of Kansas’ suggests a dread and sense of unimportance in the face of the endless sky and watching universe. ‘The Credo of Dissolving’ echoes this feeling of smallness under the stars with its crashing waves of electronics and yearning piano and strings. ‘There is Evil in His Machinery’ and the glistening night sky of closer ‘Perenne Lumen in Templo Aeterni’ end the album with a vestige of hope, a hint of sunrise over the desert.
A Mendicant Hymnal contains so many layers and moments of beauty that it belies its complexity to describe it simply as a drone or ambient piece. Sounding universal and at times consumed by the landscape yet equally human and warm, Colohan and collaborators have composed the soundtrack to a thousand journeys. Music as emotive and unique as this should not be neglected; take a trip with Raising Holy Sparks.

29 Nov 2013

Kelley Stoltz "Double Exposure" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I fell for Kelley Stoltz's vintage one man psych pop as soon as I heard "Below The Branches" back in 2006, and he's done little to disappoint since.
Sub Pop don't seem to agree unfortunately, having dropped him from their roster after a steady stream of consistently impressive albums that defines the formula of consistency + critical acclaim = average sales. We've still got a copy of "Below the Branches" in the sale bin of the record store I manage seven years later. Go figure.
Despite this baffling lack of mainstream success, Jack White's Third Man Records have picked him up for new album "Double Exposure", an album which plays to Stoltz's strengths while making a seemingly conscious effort to combine his love of the vintage with a more accessible contemprary Indie sound (a much easier task now that the line between the two is blurring).
So the outward veneer of Stoltz's Ray Davies meets Brian Wilson baroque pop leanings has been partially stripped back but whatever new surface is applied, the same bittersweet pop gems lurk just below.
Immediate standout "Are You My Love" ploughs the same krauty furrow as "A Ghost is Born" era Wilco with similarly engaging results, while "Still Feel"s bouncy kraut-pop bassline swims through waves of tremeloed guitars and carnivalized sequencers, to prove that updating need not mean dropping the psychedelic angle of his music. In fact even though this sounds less like a sixties record than his previous work, it has more psychedelic trimmings, with some particularly prominent backwards guitar parts clawing their way out of the mix as well as some lovely treatments applied to Stoltz's always engaging vocals.
"Down By The Sea" briefly revisits Stoltz's piano based baroque pop past with a lovely minor key change in the chorus that drips melancholy.
The only real mistep is the title track's post punk percussion and call and response vocals which recall a second rate Arcade Fire, although I'd anticipate this track being some people's highlight (Stoltz liked it enough to name the album after it) so what do I know? And the hypnotic psychedelia of its immediate successor "Inside My Head" (all nine minutes of it),  provides a soothing balm that ensures that all is forgiven and forgotten within minutes.

Available here.

Check out the video for the "Red Telephone" referencing "Kim Chee Taco Man"  

28 Nov 2013

The Movements Interview

We had a chat to Thomas from the Movements about their new album "Like Elephants 1" (in our top 50 albums of the year here) and Swedish psychedelia in general.

"Like Elephants 1" is a real change of pace for you guys. Was there a conscious decision to  make this album more psychedelic or is it just a natural progression of where your heads are at now?

Our music has just developed with ourselves. We have never tried to hang on to what we´ve done before. And for me personally this record isn´t necessarily more psychedelic, our space album is more psychedelic to me in a way. What I mean is that it is very hard to discuss what is psychedelic or not since that is very much a subjective experience. So to answer your question, it wasn´t a conscious decision to make a more psychedelic album, but I´m glad that you experience it that way.

Was there a specific point during the writing/ recording process when you realized that this was something else from what you normally do?

Ever since we decided to do this album the intention was to make something that was much better than anything we had recorded before.  For some years we were very restrictive with touring so we could focus on songwriting. When we started to record the album we had to work very hard to get the sound we wanted and when we finally found it we already were so into the process that we just kept on going and made two albums instead of one. We started to record these albums in 2010 and then we worked ourselves through it in various sessions. So it took quite a while. During the years we also learned a lot of recording and producing techniques so for the first time we really made the album(s) that we intended to do.
"Like Elephants 1" is the first part of a two album series. Has the second album been completed, and how did you decide which material to put on which album?

Part 2 is completed, I actually got the final mix and mastering earlier this week.
We have worked a lot at the flow of the music through the albums. Everything floats together, as you hopefully have noticed. The important thing for us is that every song fits in a good context with the other songs on each album. It was important for us to create strong albums and not just compilations of songs, and that the albums would create a whole, a kind of continuity, together. But the challenge was also to make songs that could stand on their own as well. We tried out various sequences of songs but at one point or another the albums just ended up creating themselves you could say.

The explorative passages on tracks like "Boogin" make me think of things like "Eight Miles High" - have you been listening to Coltrane and other jazz or does this influence come more from psychedelia for you?

Yes in fact, so we´re glad that you noticed that! The poly-rhythmic elements of jazz and its African roots has been a particular source of inspiration for us. 
For us jazz and psych don´t necessarily need to be in contrast, for example we listen a lot to music like The Pyramids and Sun Ra.

Here's your chance to get the word out on other great Swedish bands - who should we be listening to (apart from you of course!) ? 

Our homtetown Göteborg is full of good bands, for example: Greencoats, Hills, Spiders, Den Stora vilan, Jaques Labouchere, Blue for two, Goat, Sonson, Graveyard, Yuri Gagarin, Silverbullit, Horisont and Uran, to name a few.
But as this is the Active Listener we also have to name some Swedish records from the past that should be in everyones record collection.
Träd, gräs och stenar - Träd, Gräs och Stenar
Bo Hansson - Attic Thoughts
Baby Grandmothers - Baby Grandmothers
Resan - Resan (The Trip)
International Harvester - Sov Gott Rose-Marie

Thanks for the interview!

You can read our review of "Like Elephants 1" here.

The Movements on Facebook.

The Kumari "Watching You" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Kumari follow up on an impressive debut offering (reviewed back here in February), with a new E.P on Greek label Lost in Tyme.
While that initial E.P had a wide ranging but slightly schizophrenic personality, "Watching You" seems to have a much more focused idea of what it's setting out to do and the four tracks on offer here are all thrillingly authentic slices of garage folk-punk circa 1965 - if it wasn't for the lack of background crackle (there's plenty of foreground sizzle) you'd think that some unscrupulous character had unearthed a lost gem of an acetate from the era and passed it off as their own.
Yet another recent product of Sandgate Sound Studios (and co-produced I believe by Studio owners and Higher State members Mole and Marty?) it's no surprise that this flawlessly evokes an era where punk and paisley were synonymous rather than the London of 2013 that it's actually a product of.
Reverb-laden garage jangle probably sums it up best, although that in some ways is like saying the Beatles were a beat group - there are plenty more dimensions to this increasingly well rounded group.
"She Was Mine" expresses it's righteous indignation through a series of fiery surf guitar solos with all the primal rage of the most revolutionary of early rock n roll. "The Time is Now" on the otherhand opts for dreamy restraint, and adds a layer of vintage organ to the ever present jangle, while "I'm Sad" (a cover of 60s teen punkers Black And The Blues) is appropriated so fully that it's hard to believe it's not one of their own.
Which only leaves the title track - a twelve string anthem with a lyric that mixes optimism and voyeurism in equal measure and enough Byrdsy jangle to satisfy the most jaded fan of the (just) pre-psychedelic era.

Limited to 500 copies on 7” only (200 on red coloured vinyl) - out in the next few days.

Follow The Kumari on Facebook for ordering info.

"I'm Sad" featured on the last Active Listener Sampler - you can stream that track here:

27 Nov 2013

The Active Listener's Favorite 50 Albums of 2013

50. Foxygen "We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic" 
Review here.
"one of the most melodically gifted and cleverly crafted albums I've heard this year so far"

49. The Soulless Party "Tales From The Black Meadow"
Review here.
"a nagging sense of  trepidation lurking just below the surface."

48. Alasdair Roberts and Robin Robertson "Hirta Songs"
Review here.
"intricate fingerstyle guitarwork and memorable vocal performances'

47. Mazzy Star "Seasons of Your Day"
Review here.
"many lessons to learn, many miracles to witness."
46. Schnauser "Where Business Meets Fashion"
Review here.
"imagine Caravan fronted by Jarvis Cocker"

45. The Higher State "The Higher State"
Review here.
"if you're a fan of the Byrds first two albums (particularly "Turn, Turn, Turn") or to a lesser extent Love's debut, then you're going to love this."

44. Espectrostatic "Espectrostatic"
Review here.
"consistently creepy and evocative"

43. The Black Angels "Indigo Meadow"
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
The Black Angels most focused and accessible album yet?

42. The Movements "Like Elephants 1"
Review here.
"they stretch themselves musically in a similar manner to a number of first generation psychedelicists who turned themselves onto the sounds of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman to expand their horizons exponentially."

41. The Blank Tapes "Vacation" 
Review here.
"a diverse gem with immediate appeal that reveals unexpected layers with repeated immersion."

40. David Bowie "The Next Day"
Review here.
"a totally unexpected bonus, and a continuation of a renaissance that we'd all assumed was over.'

39. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds "Push The Sky Away"
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
Noticably lacking in the noisy hullabaloo that seems to have been funnelled into his Grinderman albums lately, this is Cave's most literary, impressive outting for quite some time. Extremely impressive.

38. The Manic Street Preachers "Rewind the Film"
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
Probably one of the last things you'd expect to find on this list, this is an impressively mature outting with an emphasis on acoustic guitars and quality songcraft, with the occasional moment that recalls "Paris 1919". Richard Hawley's duet on the title track is the highlight, but the whole album is exceptionally solid.

37. Maston "Shadows"
Review here.
"breezy psychedelic pop with every note carefully considered and placed exactly where it should be."

36. Buried Feather "Buried Feather"
Review here.
"a rather exciting prospect, mixing the strict Motorik tempos of Neu with droning Spiritualized style space rock, huge, sludgy guitar breaks and plenty of moody proggish keyboard work."

35. Wolf People "Fain" 
Review here.
"louder, and fuzzier than ever and the drums are alternately funkier and heavier"

34. Daniela Casa "Societa Malata" (Reissue)
Review here.
"one of the finest library records you will ever hear, no matter how deep you dig into the genre."

33. The Magic Theatre "The Long Way Home"
Review forthcoming.

32. Broadcast "Berberian Sound Studio"
Review here.
"throbbing synths, tinkling Goblinesque tubular bells and rambling treated demonic voices represent the creep-factor, but there's plenty of beauty to be found too"

31. Gemma Ray "Down Baby Down"
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
A fabulous mostly instrumental, mock soundtrack score that sounds like Calexico scoring Rosemary's Baby. Only better.

30. The Resonars "Crummy Desert Sound"
Review here.
"another candy coated punch in the face from a band that can do no wrong and that somehow gets better with every release."

29. Dark Ocean Colors "Close Enough To See" 
Review here.
"complicated songs, crammed with so many instantly memorable hooks that you're fooled into thinking that they're the most simple things you've ever heard.'

28. Boards of Canada "Tomorrow's Harvest"  
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
A long wait, that was worth the wait - this is their most accessible album to date, and proves that they can still keep up with the Hauntological pack that they've inspired since their last album.

27. James McKeown "Sublime Knight Elect"
Review here.
"these moody instrumental numbers cast a subtle, but gripping spell with a cumulative appeal that makes repeated plays almost a compulsion."

26. Tara King TH. "Hirondelle et Beretta"
Review here.
"In many ways, this sounds more like a Broadcast album than the "Berberian Sound Studio" soundtrack (which I also loved) did."

25. The Holydrug Couple "Noctuary"
Review here.
"Opener "Counting Sailboats" doesn't so much drag 'Tomorrow Never Knows" into the 21st century kicking and screaming, as it does invite it in and give it a cup of herbal tea."

24. Kosmischer Läufer "Volume 1 – The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program 1972-83"
Review here.
"reminds me of the first Neu album without the discordant, challenging,  noisy bits, and with a heap more synths. How can that be a bad thing?"

23. Elephant Stone "Elephant Stone"
Review here.
"Sitar-heavy riffing and chiming Rickenbackers, all filtered through a glorious paisley drone."

22. Jacco Gardner "Cabinet of Curiosities"
Review here.
"a bright future with an appeal that extends far beyond that of the majority of his peers - niche music with a mainstream appeal."

21. Perhapst "Revise Your Maps"
Review here.
"Moen's songs all have a heart, and reach out to the listener unescapably, with the delicate wistfulness of the title track nudging only marginally ahead of a selection of songs that need to be experienced as a whole to fully appreciate."

20. The Dandelion - The Strange Case of the Dandelion
Review here.
"an impressive opening outing from an increasingly eclectic artist that can seemingly do no wrong."

19. Ty Segall - Sleeper
Review here.
""Sleeper" is the sort of album that one can imagine earning mainstream accolades - the fact that no concessions have had to be made on Segall's part to do so, is even more impressive."

18. The Freezing Hands - The Freezing Hands
Review here.
"at least as great as the newest Resonars LP "Crummy Desert Sound", which is sure saying something."

17. Sproatly Smith  -Remixed
Review here.
"the Sproatly's natural Albion instincts are present in full splendour, (but) they're cast through a filter of often quite extreme psychedelia"

16. Trappist Afterland - Like a Beehive, The Hill Was Alive 
Review here.
"more often than not decidedly sinister, with a creepy undercurrent that makes it difficult to discern exactly whom or what they're so righteously devoted to."

15. Jonathan Wilson - Fanfare
Review here.
"Wilson has a gift for distilling the very best elements from his record collection (often with the help of the original protagonists) and turning them into something fresh with just the right amount of comfortable familiarity that makes it feel like revisiting old friends who always have new things to say."

14. Cafe Kaput - Applied Music Vol. 1
Review here.
"closer in execution to the Advisory Circle's "As The Crow Flies" than anything else in Brook's catalogue so far, with angular themes that never fall into the incidental music trap of setting mood without melody."

13. Bill Callahan - Dream River
Not reviewed on the Active Listener.
Another great Bill Callahan album, with continued growth. No surprises there then. The man gets better with every album.

12. 8x8 - Azalea's Room
Review here.
"serious growth in a number of areas without abandoning the distinctive baroque pop sensibilities that sugarcoated our earlugs first time around."

11. Midlake- Antiphon
Review here.
"A dense psychedelic fog of a record with huge, elaborate drums, and a thick production sound that reminds me favorably of an Americanized take on the first few Doves LPs."

10. Hollow Mirrors - II
Review here.
"a staggeringly diverse album with an awareness of many genres, but a distinct sound of it's own at the same time."

09. Hidden Masters - Of This & Other Worlds
Review here.
"Diverse doesn't even begin to describe the sounds these three conjure and master effortlessly."

08. The Go - Fiesta
Review here.
"vintage psychedelia and powerpop with surprises around every corner, choruses that will floor you, and a production sound to die for"

07. Ian Skelly - Cut From a Star
Review here.
"An amazing record, particularly for those looking to step into a time machine and take it back to the heyday of breezy psych pop"

06. Neils Children - Dimly Lit
Review here.
"a record full of solid songs with hooks everywhere - a worthy successor to Broadcast's earlier work perhaps?"

05. The Sufis - Inventions
Review here.
""Inventions" is the Sufis doing what they do best, twisting the overly familiar into unfamiliar and exciting new shapes and the fact that they've assembled one of the most enjoyable albums of the year in the process is testament to their expertise"

04. Jon Brooks - Shapwick
Review here.
"Brooks is a master at writing simple, haunting melodies that seem like they've been plucked from the greater collective consciousness of our youth - pieces imbued with a nostalgic yearning for a romanticized past."

03. Magic Arm - Images Rolling
Review here.
"A quiet triumph, and a given for best of the year lists."

02. The Greek Theatre - Lost Out at Sea
Review here.
" an understated masterpiece, a record with forebears in albums like Gene Clark's solo debut and David Crosby and Graham Nash's early solo albums - overshadowed albums that will never be as famous as they deserve to be but are nonetheless cherished by those with a more adventurous disposition."

01. Soft Hearted Scientists - False Lights
Review here.
"The Scientist's ability to switch from whimsical good humor to the beautifully dark melancholy of the flawless "Golgotha" at the drop of a hat is their biggest drawcard though, which makes approaching any of their albums a thrilling prospect, and "False Lights" has more twists and turns than most bands cram into an entire career."