31 Mar 2014

Beck "Morning Phase"

Reviewed by Tom Sandford

The promotional narrative that led up to the release of Morning Phase planted the idea that the album was designed as a sequel to Beck’s 2002 masterpiece of moribund misery, Sea Change. Promulgation of the sequel angle was a canny PR move, insofar as it created the desired reactions of fevered anticipation (from Beck’s fans) and snorting cynicism (from his detractors) that lit up Internet forums even before a lick had been heard. But such a narrative also put Beck in the unenviable position of having to prove he had once again come up with the goods. And so the questions that seemed foremost in the minds of both critics and fans were whether Beck had, in fact, created a worthy sequel along the lines of, say, The Godfather Part II, or would Morning Phase turn out to be stained with the stamp of stale regurgitation (i.e. Sea Change II: Still Changin’).

That said, it’s not entirely a fool’s errand to get drawn into the whole Sea Change/Morning Phase narrative, because the albums do indeed share some rather obvious similarities, including use of the same musicians and the same moody acoustic flavour (truth be told, at times these similarities are undeniable and, one would hope, a deliberate attempt at establishing a link: compare ‘Morning’ with ‘The Golden Age’ from Sea Change). Once again the album is given stirring orchestral arrangements by Beck’s father, David Campbell, who displays astonishing empathy with the material. Check out the ethereal beauty of ‘Wave’ and tell me you’re unmoved.

Sea Change was a soul-baring tour de force of romantic despair; one that seemed even more devastating because we had all come to view Beck as the ever-aloof master of ironic detachment. It was Beck’s dark night of the soul. Morning Phase, on the other hand – and here is where the idea of its being a sequel actually feels truly apropos and poetic – creates an atmosphere of deliverance into a morning of spiritual renewal, a la Van Morrison’s ‘Brand New Day.’

In this hazy morning-after phase there is still loneliness and sadness, but on the whole Morning Phase feels brighter, more optimistic than Sea Change. Listen to the soaring, positively exhilarating chorus in ‘Morning’ that takes off like the morning’s first jolt of caffeine, or the pulsing, chipper clip of ‘Heart is a Drum’. There is weariness in the words, but defiance in the music. If there was any intention of establishing a continuum between the two albums, then perhaps that is the intended takeaway. But make no mistake: taken on its own merit, set apart from the intimidating shadow cast by Sea Change during its 14-year climb to modern classic status, Morning Phase has already distinguished itself in this manner, in only a fraction of the time.

Available on vinyl, CD, and digitally.


Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Not new as such (released in July 2012), but this self titled debut from Portland based duo Ozarks has only just found its way into my field of vision and it's absolutely refusing to budge until I tell you all how great it is. The simple fact of the matter is this - you probably don't know this album, and that is just not fair on you.

Discovering albums like this and sharing them with you all is what I do - it's my thing - but when I find an album this good that's been around for nearing two years and is largely unchampioned by the music press and blogosphere in general I will admit that I do despair, just a little.

How Ozarks haven't become critical darlings I'll never know, because this 'five years in the making' debut is just fabulous.

Equal parts modern indie pop and baroque pop with a timeless (not vintage, but classic) production sound that hearkens back to the influence of Ennio Morricone, Harry Nilsson, Badfinger, Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg (according to their resume), with a huge heaping of Brian Wilson / Van Dyke Parks love piled on top, these are great, diverse baroque pop songs that pull at the heartstrings and alternate between building to massive, emotive peaks and treading the boards with a subtlety rarely encountered in today's bombastic music indusry.

Robbie Augspurger's vocals are a dominant force, with an appeallingly delicate falsetto often inhabiting the same sort of territory as Grandaddy's Jason Lyttle and "Soft Bulletin" era Wayne Coyne.

But it's not just the presentation that excels, the songs themselves are uniformly deserving of their resplendent finery, with comparisons to last year's immaculate Magic Arm LP not only deserving, but warranted.

You'll love it.

Available here on vinyl or digitally:

29 Mar 2014

Sproatly Smith "Thomas Traherne"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

"In the middle of the 17th Century, there walked the muddy lanes of Herefordshire and the cobbled streets of London, a man who had found the secret of happiness. He lived through a period of bitterest, most brutal warfare and a period of corrupt and disillusioned peace. He saw the war and the peace at close quarters. He suffered as only the sensitive can. He did not win his felicity easily .Like the merchantman seeking goodly pearls or the seeker for hidden treasure in a field, he paid the full price. But he achieved his pearl, his treasure. He became one of the most radiantly, most infectiously happy mortals this earth has known."

The last few Sproatly Smith albums have certainly seen them embracing their flourishing psychedelic and 'wyrd' tendencies, but few would have expected "Thomas Traherne" to be the dreamlike wraith of an album that it is.

Not so much a departure, more a case of feeling like they've completely skipped several steps in their evolution to the point where anyone hearing "Thomas Traherne" as their introduction to the group would be surprised to find that the Sproatlys were at one point fairly easy to shoehorn into the folk category.

Combining ambient, psychedelia, field recordings and a whole lot more into a multilayered construct that works at it's best when devoured at album length, "Thomas Traherne" still utilizes folk song to great effect, but more often than not, it's used as an almost textural layer, rather than the centrepiece of the tracks that it's featured on. I'd hazard a guess that Sproatly's mainman Ian Smith was delving into the Ghost Box discography while putting this together. It plucks at the same seams of nostalgia as the best Ghost Box recordings without fitting into Ghost Box's more electronic template.

Highlights are almost impossible to lift from a piece like this that works so well as a whole, but the sequence that runs from "Douglas Traherne Harding" through to the moody Pink Floyd meets "Albatross" instrumental "The Vision" is pretty unbeatable.

It is by no means an easy album - the more one tries to grasp at it, the more nebulous it becomes, but the receptive listener will find this to be a most individual experience. If this is the future of Sproatly Smith, we've got some fascinating and groundbreaking work ahead of us.

CD now available from Reverb Worship. Cassette tape or Digital Download available here:

27 Mar 2014

Holy Wave "Relax"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This is one of my favorites of the year so far, and I've resisted the urge to review it up until now, as I know that as soon as it's made its way off my "to review" playlist, it'll get tucked away and not be revisited on the almost daily basis that it's been listened to over the last month. Although that may mean that I'll get more work done.

Released through the Austin Psych Fest's "Reverberation Appreciation Society" label (which you know is a sign of class), "Relax" is a fabulous slice of trippiness that could not exist without the influence of yesterday, but never fails to sound like a product of the here and now.

Drenched in lysergic organwork and treated, underwater vocals, there are plenty of moments here that bring to mind the P.O.V shots in old exploitation films, where the hero has just realized that his drink is spiked and the room starts spinning wildly, although in this case it's an intoxicating experience that I keep going back for more of.

What makes "Relax" such a winner though is the fabulous pop hooks on display in each and every one of these tracks. "Psychological Thriller" sounds like the Clean walked in on sessions for the first Love album, while "Night Tripper" starts off sounding like the best surf-Velvet Underground tribute ever before the drummer spontaneously combusts in an explosion of cymbals.

Great stuff, and still revealing new layers after more than a month's solid listening.

Available on Vinyl, and CD here.

Download and full stream available here:


Reviewed By Timothy Ferguson

With so many bands popping up all the time, I really hope I can be forgiven for having never heard of Habibi before accepting this assignment. Led by the Detroit born duo Rahill Jamalifard and Lenny Lynch, this Brooklyn based quartet is a refreshing and whip-smart re-tooling of the classic girl group concept. It’s a very mid-60s sound, with surf beats, reverb in just the right amounts, cool vocal harmonies, and sing along choruses.

I think we’re all intrigued by the girl group. Pretty young women playing electric guitars, wearing leather jackets and boots? Well, of COURSE I’m going to give them a listen. Habibi check all the right boxes, but there is much more to them than just the highly appealing physical image.

Opening track "Far From Right" sets the mood for the rest of the record, and it’s a standout track on a record FULL of standout tracks. This is also the song where the Detroit influence comes through strongest. "Sunsets" is a particular fave, with perfect harmony vocals and even a catchy little chorus complete with the call and response ‘his name was Joe’. "Sweetest Talk" is a groovy little surf number. "She Comes Along" strikes me as a bittersweet lullaby. The main arpeggiating guitar gives way to a perfect guitar lead with perhaps a slight Middle-East influence. The driving "Siin" has an almost Joy Division energy to it, but it’s an energy born less of angst and more of heartbreaking sexuality. ‘If he hurts me slow, I’m going to let him go’. "Tomboy" is a very self-aware choice for the band, and one that really works. Here, Habibi really reminds me of the Marine Girls, made ten times better because Habibi are far better musicians. The album closes with "Wrong to the Right People", an excellent closing track that leaves me wanting more. Again, smart.

Songs are hooky, well crafted and clever, with intelligent lyrics, flawless vocals and understated yet period-perfect instrumentation. Don’t expect blazing guitar solos or any single musician putting themselves before the integrity or the mood of the song. In this age where the typical music consumer is served up a tasting menu via the shuffle feature, Habibi has figured out the value of making every song a potential single. There is absolutely zero filler here, and each song is strong enough to stand on its own.

Habibi has been around since 2011, but I think they are only now getting their legs under them. Their recent trip to SxSW opened eyes and ears, I’m sure, so I am hopeful that they will soon be getting more opportunities to tour and record. If you’re a fan of smart pop groups with a 60s flavor, you are really, really, REALLY going to fall in love with these young ladies.

Available from Burger Records.

26 Mar 2014

Sudden Death of Stars "All Unrevealed Parts Of The Unknown"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

French psychedelic folk-rockers Sudden Death of Stars follow up their impressive debut "Getting Up, Going Down" with this even better follow up for the impeccably tasteful Ample Play label.

Where the debut was enamoured with the twelve strings of 1967, they've expanded upon that sound here (without abandoning it), to encompass a more timeless indie jangle that evokes the feel good nature of classic Flying Nun. Particularly effective is Valentin Prézelin's organ work which brings to mind the pop-baroque splendour of early nineties Chills.

Heavenly pop hits are the order of the day here, and while the debut's splendid attention to detail roped in us fans of the classic era of garage psych, this more contemporary approach is just what the doctor ordered to rope in less clinical fans, and more of them. We've seen numerous times in the past that quality is no guarantee of success, but these guys are certainly in the right place at the right time, doing the right things to get noticed.

Available here on CD, and here on vinyl.

25 Mar 2014

E Gone "All The Suns of the Earth"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

E Gone is Daniel Westerlund of Swedish psychedelic folk-rockers The Goner, and his debut solo album "All The Suns of the Earth" does what most side project / solo spin offs attempt, but few manage.
Stretching beyond the confines of the expectations of his day job, this shows Westerlund to be a restless, inquisitive soul with a tendency to dabble in more genres than most would deem safe, but where the dalliances of other solo artists tend to be hesitant when left to their own devices, Westerlund is always in full control of his creations.
Attempting to afix labels to music this diverse is likely to make your head spin, but within it's running time you'll find plenty of exotic, eastern fueled psychedelic rock, ominous, droning synth ambience, carefully layered, crystalline examples of (what is now unfashionable to call) post-rock and a couple of European tinged slices of americana that call to mind the best work of Sixteen Horsepower and the Tallest Man on Earth.
It's the instrumental tracks that shine brightest though for this listener, particularly the winsome "You Will Sing" (not to be confused with "Traveler, You Will Sing", featured below) which, with its chiming, glacial guitars, has a delicacy of touch that few post-rockers besides Mogwai have mastered.

Available now on CD from Deep Water Acres.

Vinyl coming soon from Sunrise Ocean Bender Records.

Foxpockets "Hope Can Make Feeble Ones Earnest and Brave"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin ( The Hare & The Moon)

The return of Brighton’s Foxpockets after a three year gap since their debut album ‘The Coracle And The Albatross’ has caused a fair degree of excitement across ye olde internet and for good reason. Their debut was a truly magical and utterly unique take on folk, all obtuse angles and unpredictable directions. Their second long payer ‘Hope Can Make Feeble Ones Earnest and Brave’, this listener is pleased to report, is no different (in that it is completely different from anything else out there). It comes as no surprise that the band list hibernation, taxidermy, crochet, farming and anatomy amongst their interests; Foxpockets are like no other.

Album opener ‘I Draw My Map’ begins with an almost Tiger Lilllies-esque cabaret stomp; harp and double bass picking up the pace along with Katherine Simner’s understated yet bewitching vocals. At once unexpected and exhilarating (this song, however polite, is a full blown tour-de-force) Foxpockets position themselves once again as one of British folk’s most inventive and truly unusual bands.‘Knacker’s Yard’ is a more refined, delicate lullaby of aching accordion and whispering harp whilst ‘Oh the Night’, an Eastern European styled paean to lost love, has a slightly sinister, vampiric edge not unlike some of Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen’s output. With lines such as ‘There’s a sense of desperation lingering in these woods....’ we are left to our imagination as to the horrors that could be going on in the cottage in the middle of the dark forest. ‘Buried Moon’s cascading and fairy-tale like harp (the best description for Foxpockets is perhaps ‘fairy tale-esque’ – they are the ideal aural accompaniment to the stories of the Brothers Grimm or Perrault) conjures up a moonlit and magical landscape albeit with a hint of the disturbing and a thimble of melancholy.
Indeed the instrumentation on the album itself is used with a sense of storytelling and with genuine effect; banjo and glockenspiel pluck and shimmer through the pages of Foxpockets dark and demented dreamscapes whilst violin, spoons and pipe add texture, menace and wonder. ‘Village Green’, with Samuel J Tetley taking over vocal duties, is a warmer affair; the click of spoons and timeless charm evoking an English Hamlet of top hats and frock coats. ‘Mess of Feathers’ further delves into a world where nothing is quite as it should be; Simner’s plaintive vocals perfectly framing the weird tale therein. The dreamy yet unsettling waltz of ‘Bones, Charred Bones’ remind one of French band Odland, the accordion rasping around the procession of banjo and plucked harp; descriptions of mildew and ‘bitter cold rain’ adding an otherworldly and dank, eerie taste to proceedings. Tom Waits himself would be proud to have come up with a shanty such as this.
‘Cephalophore’ creaks into life before it begins a stately and properly epic instrumental march of harp and drums that is utterly spellbinding. Reminiscent of such classic Czech cinema soundtracks as ‘Valerie and Her Week of Wonders’ and ‘Mala Morska Mila’, this is equally timeless and yes, fairy tale-like. Album closer ‘Drag the Forest Down’ is a warm and rich message to a lover framed in twinkling glockenspiel and stirring strings, the protagonist promising…’I’ll drag the forest down to you’. It’s a sweet and simple end to an album that virtually carries you off to a strange and bewildering yet inviting otherworld. There is no-one quite like Foxpockets. I suspect witchcraft may be involved….

Quick off the draw purchasers will be rewarded with a superb free live EP so make haste. The album itself (as is usual with Reverb Worship) comes in a limited, numbered and beautiful handmade sleeve featuring photographed materials and a rather delightful stag. Keep an eye out for the reappearance of their long sold out debut later in the year too. Once upon a time there was Foxpockets. Follow them down the rabbit hole, into the forest and across the air….

Available from Reverb Worship.

24 Mar 2014

March Sampler Now Available

Now in a bumper volume!

There was so much good stuff showing up in my inbox this month that I just couldn't cut it down to the normal length, so this month;s sampler is overflowing at the seams.

We've got premieres from upcoming albums by Klaus Johann Grobe, Earthling Society, The Red Plastic Buddha, The Green Tambourine Band, The Magnetic Mind and a whole lot more....

1. The Red Plastic Buddha - Little White Pills 05:26
2. Klaus Johann Grobe - Between The Buttons 04:47
3. Schizo Fun Addict - St Andrews 02:57
4. The Green Tambourine Band - You Are The One That I Love To Love 04:12
5. Octopus Syng - Avant Garden 04:45
6. Silver Trees - Listen 04:45
7. Blackstone RNGRS - Endless Sky 04:39
8. Peacock Farm - Monogram (Plum Run) 06:20
9. Oliver Cherer - The Dead Return 02:19
10. Sand Snowman - Stained Glass Morning 05:57
11. Flying Cape Experience - I Am The Other 02:54
12. Walrus - It's No Myth To Me 08:14
13. The Dandelion Seeds - Dual Opperation 03:18
14. The Sunchymes - Through My Eyes 03:51
15. Loop Line - All I'm Waiting For 02:59
16. The Magnetic Mind - When The Morning Comes 03:00
17. Prana Crafter - Treasure in a Ruin 05:17
18. Brayan - A Little Bit More 05:21
19. Earthling Society - Rivers Edge 04:55
20. Joaquim Barato - Prophecies 04:03
21. Cremator - Clear Air Turbulence 08:33
22. The Nebyudelic Sound System - Down To The River 05:33

This month's best new music - artists as reviewed recently on the Active Listener as well as other more recent discoveries.

Cover art by Keith Crocker - messages/commissions welcome: www.facebook.com/keith.crocker.73 

Get it here:

23 Mar 2014

Dead Leaf Echo "true.deep.sleeper"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Last year's debut "Thought & Language" was partially responsible for convincing me that the new shoegaze movement was capable of matching the heights of the best practitioners of the original scene, so it was with great interest that I approached this new E.P from Brooklyn's premiere nouveau gazers.
Housed within are three stupendous tracks which easily reach the heights of anything found on "Thought & Language", followed by a not entirely successful dub version of that album's "Heavensent", although as I come from a country where watered down white dub is a dominant force, I may be more prejudiced against this than the average listener.
The first three tracks however are faultless - expansive and a little heavier than the material found on "Thought & Language", but with melodies that are no less gorgeous. The ghosts of early Lush and Chapterhouse are glimpsed often, but I would argue that neither produced a track that could match the bittersweet headrush of the title track here.
A necessary investigation for those who are already convinced that the new gaze scene is bearing fruit, and a compelling argument for those who are still sitting on the fence.

22 Mar 2014

"A Psych Tribute To The Doors"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

One of the most common failings of the tribute album is the desire to show how wide reaching the influence of the artist is by including covers by artists of many different genres. While this obviously speaks volumes about the appeal of that original artist, it rarely makes for a satisfying or cohesive listen.
Cleopatra Records have wisely narrowed the field for this tribute down to artists that - broadly speaking at least - operate at the more psychedelic end of the spectrum.
While this brief may also provide limiting factors to a certain extent, the majority of artists here approach the material in an adventurous fashion which doesn't simply consist of playing the original note for note with added reverb.
Interestingly enough, the tracks that work best are those where the original upbeat number has been given a spooky or downbeat makeover, bringing these tracks more in line with my favourite Doors material.
Dark Horse's take on "Hello, I Love You" has a creepy giallo vibe that gives familiar lyrics a sinister undercurrent. Clinic's subversive borrowing of "Touch Me" sounds like the bedroom doodlings of a maniac who hasn't left the house for months, while the Raveonette's lovely, concise version of "The End" could be used to back up the argument that Dream Pop's ancestry stretches back further than we've been led to believe.
It's not 100% successful of course - it's quite an ask to expect a listener to take in a whole album of remakes of songs they've carried around with them for most of their life without occasionally pining for the originals - but it has more hits than misses, and even those relatively few misses are noble failures that have opted to try something new rather than stick with the safe route.

Available on vinyl, CD, or digital.

19 Mar 2014

The Dandelion Seeds

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

On this, their new self-titled long player, Iceland’s best hidden psychedelic warlocks The Dandelion Seeds emerge as northern lights in the new wave of Northern Psychedelia that is currently floating out lysergically from such upper hemispheric climes as Ireland (United Bible Studies, Raising Holy Sparks, The Driftwood Manor), Sweden (Goat and Dungen), Norway (Sleepyard), England (The Temples) and Denmark (Motorpsycho). Following several other low key but hugely promising releases (2011’s ‘Pink Street Sessions’ and ‘Good Times With The Dandelion Seeds’) this full length trip into the outer reaches of sonic space incorporates and distils the rampant inventiveness and general ‘out there’ qualities of the Seeds into an extremely powerful and thrilling dive down the rabbit hole.
‘Al Azif’ is a full throttle psychedelic monster, vocal harmonies drifting hazily over driven fuzz guitar, backwards tapes and Floyd-esque organ into an epic interstellar overdrive of a jam. Tight yet free to roam and experiment, the band achieve full velocity in a Goat style raga freak out that truly +has to be heard. ‘Dual Operation’ with its Byrds minor key jangle, freeform soloing and contagious melody (these chaps seem incapable of writing something that doesn’t then stick like Technicolor glue in your head) is a long lost summer of love classic. Likewise, ‘Crazy Sun’s late summer shimmer is a gorgeous and nostalgic perfect piece of 60’s styled pop; a proper golden nugget. Reminiscent at times of mid period Julian Cope with chiming harpsichord styled guitars and flanged soaring choruses there is much here that will be held dear by Active Listener readers. ‘Rasa Shastra’s distorted organ and eerie guitar adds a roughhewn edge to the descending, sinister Syd Barret melody; indeed The Dandelion Seeds remind us of Iceland’s eclectic , playful and colourful musical linage (such as The Sugarcubes) that has been somewhat overshadowed of late by the post rock of fellow countrymen Sigur Ros. ‘Soul Thing’ wears its 1960s London heart on its sleeve, the dominant piano creating an imaginary soundtrack to an unmade Lindsay Anderson film. This listener can hear pleasing washes of Nirvana (the original lot rather than Kurt’s), Her Satanic Majesties Rolling Stones and Piper-era Floyd’s bold experimentation and off kilter guitar work, perhaps with a touch of the C86 indie scene sprinkled on top.
‘Took Your Life Babe’s air raid siren guitar and reverbed vocals are genuinely exhilarating, feedback wailing around the verses; garage meets space rock in a meltdown of fuzz and harmony. ‘The Waiting Game’ is a sitar spangled shooting star of a song; there are more melodic ideas in one Dandelion Seeds song than in most bands’ careers. Paisley guitars chime and peal propelled by a solid backbeat with thrusters on full speed. The Stone Roses write songs like this only in their dreams. ‘Örlygstaðabardagi’ finishes the album with the whirling analogue winds descending into an all-out volcanic eruption of guitar noise and cosmic bass. It’s a symbol of the sheer creativeness and lack of conformity that The Dandelion Seeds have in spades; they are truly on their own trajectory; you are welcome to come along for the trip (man) but they’re firmly at the controls.
Psychedelia aficionados will want to hear this; indeed anyone with a love for classic 60s pop and space rock will want to strap themselves in ready for launch. The Dandelion Seeds are going places.

Name your price download available here:

18 Mar 2014

Three New Releases From Active Listener Records

We've released three new titles on Active Listener Records over the last week or so that we'd like to introduce you to.
We've reissued the first two albums from Beatlesque Norwegian psychedelic pop practitioners Dog Age (as a single download), and we have two new releases in the Active Listener Introduces series by Sand Snowman (featuring guest appearances by Steven Wilson, Judy Dyble, Bobbie from Comus and more), and Chicago's fabulous psychedelic pop-rockers The Luck of Eden Hall.
Check them all out below, they're all bargains and we appreciate your support.
And that's not it for the month either - we've got two more titles due before month's end; a split E.P from Portugal's Joaquim Barato and Finland's Flying Cape Experience, and the long awaited full length debut from exciting Edinburgh psychedelic folk-rockers The Green Tambourine Band.

From: Chicago, U.S.A
Style: Psychedelic Rock / Psychedelic Pop
Recommended if you like: The Beatles, The Smashing Pumpkins

Read more / listen / buy here.

From: London, U.K
Style: Progressive Folk / Rock
Recommended if you like: Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, The Wicker Man

20 Track compilation featuring guest appearances from Steven Wilson, Judy Dyble and more.

Read more / listen / buy here.

From: Oslo, Norway
Style: Psychedelic Pop / Folk-Rock
Recommended if you like: The Beatles, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, U.K Psych-Pop

Dog Age's first two albums (from 1989 and 1991) plus a bonus track for only $10 U.S

Read more / listen / buy here.

Susan Justin "Forbidden World" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's been a little while since I covered anything from Death Waltz Recordings, but that doesn't mean that they haven't been busy. Their latest is this excellent, mostly electronic score for Roger Corman's cheap and cheerful 1982 Alien rip off "Forbidden World" (which is pretty fabulous, check it out here ).
Composer Susan Justin had a background in a New Wave band, and brought a melodic sensibility to her score here that was unusual for the synth horror soundtracks of the time. Which is not to say that it doesn't have its fair share of ominous synth pulses - there are plenty of those - but the title theme and several other cuts also offer memorable melodic content that offset the creeping unease nicely and make it clear why the Death Waltz folks added this to their roster.

Vinyl only release available here.

17 Mar 2014

Walrus "Glam Returns" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Coming from the same nascent Nova Scotian psychedelic scene as our much loved friends Shadow Folk, this three piece outfit offer a sound that's more likely to appeal to a contemporary audience than the classic pop structures of our SF friends. Psychedelic pop with a cerebral core, Walrus strike a very fine balance between memorable choruses, and unusual time signatures and tempo changes, coming across at times like a more jangly Grizzly Bear.
Opener "Banger" shifts from uptempo banger to woozy halfspeed psychedelia that sounds like it's wading through molasses and back again with good natured confidence that belies the fact that it really shouldn't work (but does).
"Bulash" offers the E.P's best pure pop moments, but it's the introduction of heavy riffing, Crazy Horse style guitar bludgeoning on lengthy closer "It's No Myth To Me" that keeps me coming back for more - piercing shrieks of primal riffery that should be totally at odds with the quirky pop heart of this E.P but stands out even more impressively for its ballsy acceptance that it's OK to be different.

16 Mar 2014

Reign Ghost Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Extraordinary Spanish label Guerssen continue their mission to reissue every worthwhile piece of obscure psychedelia on vinyl unabated with the pick of this month's impressive crop being Canadian band Reign Ghost's self titled debut (their more challenging followup is also reissued this month).
Originally released in 1969 and influenced by the San Francisco school of exploratory psychedelic folk-rock, the dual male and female vocals inevitably lead to a Jefferson Airplane comparison. Where Reign Ghost differ from many other also rans of the time is in the inventive instrumental work particularly the fuzz guitar and organ interplay - if these guys were inspired by the Airplane (which seems likely), it's the Airplane of "After Bathing at Baxters" rather than that of the more concise and 'easy' "Surrealistic Pillow".
Lengthy explorations like "Eyes Knows, So Does Ears and Carolina" prove that they've got the chops to expand minds in the prescribed fashion while vocalist Lynda Squires digs her hooks into the memorable hooks of more melodic folk rock fare like "A Long Day Journey".
If it weren't for Plastic Cloud's self titled debut, I'd rate this as the finest psych LP to emerge from Canada in the sixties, and if you're going to play second fiddle to anything, that's an entirely respectable album to be trumped by.
Essential for San Francisco style psych folk-rockers. You know who you are.

Guerssen's Reign Ghost reissue is available on vinyl here.

Moon Wiring Club "A Fondness For Fancy Hats" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Ian Hodgson's Confusing English Electronic Music essentially presents a "what if?" scenario that runs along the lines of "what if DJ Shadow, or perhaps Madlib had been born in a small, spooky English village and only had a Playstation to make music with?"
A stack of albums later and you'd perhaps be expecting the novelty of this approach to be fraying around the edges a little, but Hodgson's well is showing no signs of running dry at this point, and this is perhaps his most beat-laden and fun release yet. 
There's a little less of the treated vocal sample approach that he's employed in the past, and an old fashioned Commonwealth state of mind is still best employed to gain the most from his music, but the beats on tracks like "Climbing Through a Postcard" are infectious enough to ensnare even the most unwilling visitor to this particular village, where the music won't stop when you walk into the inn, and they most assuredly do like your type around here. But don't let that trick you into thinking that there's nothing sinister going on in the shadows.
Ghost Box appreciators who wish that their offerings were a little more beaty should love this.

Available here.


15 Mar 2014

The Rhubarb Triangle "Wakefield City Blues" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This young London based four-piece may not have quite decided on exactly who they are yet, but the three varied tracks on offer here suggest that whichever of the three paths presented that they follow will lead to interesting things.
The gritty, early Stones style boogie of "Bloodhound" is probably the winner in my book, combining primal vocal outbursts with infectious choogle and plenty of vintage analogue reverb, but they also show an aptitude for organ-heavy garage rock on "Wakefield City Blues" and explosive surf on "Hung Up (Baby On You)".
It'll be interesting to see if they develop a sound that integrates these elements a little more smoothly, but in the meantime this debut is a whole lot of fun.

Available here:

14 Mar 2014

Kryzstof Komeda "Dance of the Vampires" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Kryzstof Komeda's score for "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is certainly one of his less acclaimed, perhaps as it doesn't play to his jazz strengths in the same way as his earlier Polanski scores (particularly "Cul-De-Sac").
In many ways it can be viewed as a dry run for what he accomplished with "Rosemary's Baby", combining hints of his earlier jazz material with the creepy unease of "Rosemary's Baby" and some more traditional, orchestral film score material sandwiched inbetween.
And while it may not be as cool as "Cul-De-Sac" or as influential or creepy as "Rosemary's Baby", it has still has plenty of frisson and some genuinely exquisite melodic material.
Particularly successful is the diabolical and creepy as hell choral work, but even the most traditional sounding orchestral material is given a neat twist to raise it above the level of its contemporaries of the day. If this had been the work of a lesser known composer with less of a legacy to compare it to, it'd be rightly celebrated now.
Kudos to Seriés Aphōnos for resurrecting this unjustly neglected gem.

Vinyl with CD available here.

13 Mar 2014

Blackstone Rngrs "Descendant" Review

Reviewed by Nathan  Ford

Another new signing to Saint Marie Records, Blackstone Rngrs impress with this second E.P (first for the label). Hooky dream-pop with plenty of gutsy nu-gaze guitar work, this is at its best when vocalist Ruth Ellen Smith layers her voice with cavernous reverb and lets it soar as another instrument rather than a tool for communicating lyrical content. The title track displays this admirably, conjuring ghosts of This Mortal Coil, but the more hooky dream-pop numbers have plenty to recommend them too, particularly the wistful "Endless Sky" and the disntinctly New Orderish "Judas Tree".
It's an extremely promising E.P that really only needed four more tracks of similar quality and it could have been fleshed out into a confident and satisfying full length debut. Great stuff, I just wish there was more of it - but that's a good sign isn't it?

You can stream three tracks or purchase here:

11 Mar 2014

Sand Snowman "Private Culture (2006-2013)" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

We've repeatedly sung the praises of Gavan Kearney (that's Sand Snowman to you) in these pages with consistently glowing words for the string of recent albums and reissues that have borne his name. It was a no-brainer then for me to think about a Sand Snowman release when I started up the "Active Listener Introduces" series. With a hard working approach to making music that is as consistently amazing as it is gracefully released into the world, with the minimum of Gavan's own trumpet blowing to draw attention, this is exactly the sort of humble talent that the series was set up to highlight.
Typical then that upon revisiting his bandcamp page to investigate a potential tracklisting before contacting him, I find he's released a similar collection himself in the recent past, with little in the way of fanfare, but plenty of sparkle.
"Private Culture" is this collection, a generous, and faultlessly compiled and sequenced 19 track collection of some of his best work from 2006-2013, for a ridiculously low $7 U.S. When I say that there are a few personal favorites missing, that speaks to the quality of his back catalogue, rather than any flaws in the selection process here, because this fits together seamlessly and presents a very accurate picture of the depth and range of material he has up his sleeve.
Progressive folk-rock would be a fair but limited description of what Kearney accomplishes (guest vocalists including Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, Comus's Bobbie Watson and ex Morning Way / Fairport Conventioneer Judy Dyble should also help form an impression of the sounds to be discovered here.)
Predominantly acoustic instrumentation weaves itself into ever more intricate patterns with nice psychedelic textures colouring the progressive arrangements in a pleasingly warm glow. Female vocals provided by guests and frequent collaborator Moonswift are coaxed into ghostly, spooked shapes, while Kearney's own vocals are almost a match quality and timbre wise for Steven Wilson - to the point where there are several tracks where I can't tell which of the two is at the mic. The wooly pipes, cawing crows and crystalline vocals on opener "Stained Glass Morning" paint an alternate vision of a past where Judy Dyble stayed on as a fulltime member of King Crimson, with the resulting track conjuring visions of an acoustic King Crimson scored Wicker Man - an intriguing proposition and a prefect entry point to a catalogue that needs investigating and is encapsulated perfectly here.

Stream / download here:

10 Mar 2014

Lilies on Mars "Dot to Dot" Review

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

I’ve spent a lot of time this week spinning this English (by way of Italy) duo’s enchanting new record, and it’s sucked me in like so many other Saint Marie releases. Label owner Wyatt Parkins has a knack for sniffing out the best talent in shoegaze/dream pop/ambient territory, and these ladies are no exception.
Drop the stylus on any one track, and you might hear elegant echoes of Air, Thievery Corporation, or their own brand of dreamy spy chick soundscapes. Honestly, they have such an awesome brand of space age bachelor pad music that you can’t help but be charmed and enthralled. These ladies (Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo) have light and airy voices, but aren’t afraid to toss thick layers of effects on top to creep you out a bit. Witness the cool way they twist their vocals on closing track “Martians” for just a small sample of what LOM can do. With help from Valentina Magaletti (Fanfarlo/The Oscillation) on percussion, and guest vocals from Franco Battiato (a popular Italian singer/songwriter) on “Oceanic Landscape”, they’ve served up an embarrassment of sonic riches.
The gorgeous “Sugar is Gone” is perhaps my favorite track, evoking recent bands such as Still Corners and Beach House, only with their own delicate take on retro space pop. Vintage instruments coupled with futuristic washes of warm, electronic sound create a unique soundscape for throwing off the winter chill and basking in the light cast by this wonderful release.

5 Mar 2014

Earthling Society Announce New Album and Share Amazing Alice Coltrane Cosmic Jam Cover

Psychedelic pagan space rock band Earthling Society have completed work on their forthcoming album "England Have My Bones", their eighth album.
Scheduled for a Summer release they've shared this amazing fifteen minute, guitar driven cover of Alice Coltrane's "Journey In Satchidananda" as a taster for the album.

Follow Earthling Society on Facebook for more news on the album.

Stream "Journey in Satchidananda"here:

4 Mar 2014

Schizo Fun Addict "Theme From Suspiria" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

And now the last of the March Fruits de Mer releases that I'm going to guide you through is this excellent cinematic offering from Schizo Fun Addict.
I'm firmly of the opinion that Goblin's "Suspiria" is one of the best pieces of music ever written (and won't be swayed on that, so don't go trying), so the decision to cover said masterpiece shows that Schizo Fun Addict have both impeccable taste and balls to spare.
Ripped off by many (especially recently), but covered by comparatively few, they have the good sense to realize that the original is pretty much unbeatable in terms of mood and that any successful cover is going to need to be one hell of a reinvention, and so it is here. Starting off innocuously enough with piano and then some sort of harpsichord synthesizer carrying that familiar refrain, it's not long before there are oscillators flying around worryingly, creepy lalas ala "Profondo Rosso" and funky breaks that could have graced a vintage Deodato LP. There's even one point where it threatens to turn into the Doctor Who theme.
Stripped of tubular bells and whispering witches, this is a pretty fun alternative to the original. If Goblin had been listening to Brian Hodgson rather than Mike Oldfield then their version could have potentially sounded like this.
The flipside is a much lighter affair; "In The Long Run" originally performed by the fictional Carrie Nations for the soundtrack to the film "Beyond The Valley of the Dolls" was improbably composed by Stu Phillips (better known for pompous space fare like Battlestar Galactica). Despite this, the original is a memorable piece of late sixties girl pop, only occasionally troubled by an overwrought vocal delivery. The Schizos tone down some of the more dated aspects of the original in their sixties pop filtered through nineties indie arrangement with bands like St Etienne and Belle and Sebastian coming to mind, especially when the tasteful trumpet accompaniment winds its way around the vocal melody.

Available here from Fruits de Mer Records.

THEME FROM SUSPIRIA by Schizo Fun Addict from jet wintzer on Vimeo.

3 Mar 2014

Bronco Bullfrog "Time Waits For Norman" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Following up on our look at the new Schnauser 7", there are another couple of notably great releases coming out on the same day from the busy Fruits de Mer Records label which I'll hit you with over the next few posts.
Bronco Bullfrog released a fabulous single last year on State Records (Clarifoil / Never Been To California) which I played to death and always intended to review glowingly, but one thing led to another, or in this case led to nothing, and it got buried in the to do pile and never eventuated. These sorts of things happen when you're sent 20-30 things a week to review, and have time to review 4 or 5 on a good week. Now that another of their excellent singles has made its way onto my desk I must pull finger however, and this one is even more deserving. Three tracks this time with two originals and a cover of the fab Sands B-Side "Listen to the Sky" which you've probably been acquainted with via the Nuggets II box set.
If you're not familiar with Bronco Bullfrog, they're a three piece U.K outfit with a back catalogue that sounds like it's been plucked straight out of an alternate reality 1967 - think U.K folk-rock / pop of the type that was aware of its psychedelic surrounds, but never overpowered by them - the Kinks and Small Faces come to mind.
The title track follows in the grand tradition of U.K pop psych character studies and would have fit in nicely among the Harry Braffs and Arnold Laynes of the '67 airwaves with it's Who-style "Quick One" backing vocals and a lovely respite provided by an unexpectedly delicate bridge.
"Rocking Horse Mender" is a very open Kaleidoscope tribute, the sort of influence worn on sleeve tribute that a label like Fruits de Mer allows an artist the freedom to pursue where a larger label would likely step in. It pays dividends too as this richly exploits the same sort of nursery rhyme simplicity as "Mr Small, the Watch Repairer Man". It should come across as hopelessly twee but has such a delicacy of touch, not to mention a pretty special change near the end of the chorus that provides a visceral connection completely unexpected from such a fragile piece.
"Listen to the Sky" on the other hand is pretty damn gritty and extremely faithful to the original - at least for the first part, then it ditches the mock dogfight and Holst conclusion of the original in favour of a propulsive build that helps it reach a potential that I hadn't realized the original was lacking until now. After a few listens it sounds so natural that the original now sounds tacked on and wrong to me. Damn you Bronco Bullfrog!

7" E.P available here from Fruits de Mer Records.