29 Dec 2015

Dumbo Gets Mad - Thank You Neil

Reviewed by Maggie Danna

Dumbo Gets Mad is an incredibly talented male/female dream pop and psych duo from Italy. Unlike their first two albums, which were available as free downloads, the band is actually charging for this latest one. It’s definitely worth it though. On Bandcamp, they explain that the album’s title, "Thank You Neil", was inspired by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and the 2014 documentary television show, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”, which he presented and helped create. This is very fitting for such an ambient - and in spots surreal - album with song titles that include “Youniverse”, “Quasar”, and “Cosmic Bloom”.

"Thank You Neil" continues the delicate jazz and funk dabbling established in the group’s previous albums and further emphasizes the soulful aspects of their sound. The vocals are almost solely female, and highly dulcet, and in comparison to their earlier work this album is much more laid-back. “Orion Caos” in particular is a standout in the funk department with a grooving baseline and electric guitar over dainty synths. "Thank You Neil" is also similarly serene to Pure X’s 2014 album "Angel", though it has a more upbeat tempo; this resemblance is especially noticeable during the beginning of “Loosing It” which starts out very mild and meditative before gradually turning experimentally jazzy and cosmic. This track also has an excellently fuzzy and spaced-out jazz guitar solo in the middle that is somewhat comparable to Fifty Foot Hose.

"Thank You Neil" is smooth and hypnotic with an invigorating energy. Conceptual themes of the album include the confusion and seemingly arbitrariness of the workings of the universe, the limiting power of time, and a critical view of misogynist culture. References to the cosmos abound. Maintaining a cohesive sound throughout, the album’s vibe is modern yet peppered with retro flair.

Some of the strongest tracks are “Orion Caos”, “Loosing It”, “Andromedian Girl”, and “Misanthropulsar”, the album’s first single. If you enjoy this album, check out Dumbo Gets Mad’s debut and sophomore albums, "Elephants At The Door" and "Quantum Leap". "Elephants At The Door" has a similar style to "Thank You Neil" but is more uptempo, and "Quantum Leap" is the liveliest, infiltrated by dance and hip hop beats. Their sampling game is also particularly strong on "Quantum Leap", with clips of Azealia Banks on “Tahiti Hungry Jungle” and Fifty Foot Hose on “Future Sun”. Each album they have released so far is spectacular and none should be missed.

Stream or buy digitally here:

19 Dec 2015

The Leaf Library - Daylight Versions

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

London band the Leaf Library takes a leaf from the page of various psych/drone/shoegaze genres and mash it all together into a fine pulp, complete with woozy melodies, cheerful female vocals, and an obvious love for Yo La Tengo, Flying Nun, and other bands who most likely revere The Velvet Underground.

Opening track “Asleep Between Stations” merges all these influences into one solid tune, and includes some fine sax playing from guest musician Ben Gates. “Tilting” has a more gentle approach, lapsing into the background but remaining present in your mind as its warmth works its magic on you. I really like the flourish of trumpet that embellishes this tune and elevates it from the norm. “Slow Spring” unfolds like the lazy meandering of a sparkling stream, revealing all its bright currents as it flows through you. The hushed percussion works well here, maintaining the laid back feel of this song. “Acre” draws from "Spirit of Eden" era Talk Talk, and channels the spooky ambience of that classic album. It is contemplative, and at times soporific music that lulls you into its perfect beauty. “Sailing Day” is another song in the same vein, though it veers off down a slippery psych path with cool synth flourishes. “Rings of Saturn” almost reminds me of Flying Saucer Attack, droning organs laced with airy vocals and restrained instrumentation. In fact, as the song moves forward, it also reminds me of classic late period Talk Talk.

Much of the music here swoons and dives between post rock, dream pop, and ambient electronic music. But I think it also transcends any of these labels and becomes less about naming the influence and more about experiencing the music as a suite of songs. “Summer Moon” is stripped back to simple instrumentation, and is delightfully pretty. “Evening Gathers” is as lovely a song as you may hear this year, with its luminous grooves that slowly rise to a percussive maelstrom and then settle gently back down.

I can come up with any number of descriptions for this lovely, cinematic record, one which evokes long, languid summers and pastoral beauty. Writers often compare The Leaf Library to Stereolab, Epic 45, and Movietone, as well as the aforementioned bands. I most often hear them evoking Yo La Tengo and Talk Talk, but they also bring their own special brand of beauty to the table. Be prepared for anything and experience this on your own, one of the loveliest releases I have heard this autumn.

Available here (UK), and here (US).

18 Dec 2015

Gnoomes - Ngan!

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Gnoomes are from Russia, one of the homes of space exploration in the twentieth century. In the tradition of all things cosmonaut-like, Gnoomes latest LP 'Ngan!' is a huge lumbering Soyuz spacecraft of blissed out sound that draws a perfect arc through 40 years of tripped out intergalactic noisemaking. Y'dig? Read on.

This full length outing is definitely one that rewards repeated listening. 'Ngan' is a four track sound sandwich with two giant wedges of sonic exploration bookending the two shorter tracks in between. The first few times listening it's fun to analyse Gnoomes sound and pull out your favourite reference points from their map of the heavens. Opening track, "Roadhouse" definitely has been touched by the spirit of Michael Rother and Harmonia or more latterly Causa Sui. It hovers gently into view on washes of lightly echoed guitar morphing before locking down into a lovely crystalline motorik groove with spectral, almost monastic vocals blowing through the speakers that begs to morph into a fuzz and distorto supernova underpinned by some lovely synth drones. Of course about 4 minutes in that is exactly what begins to unfold but in a way that never loses its precision or sense of control. Over its 15 glorious minutes of very deliberately sculpted sound you are presented with the scene Gnoomes want you to dig with them. It is vast, it is timeless, it is propulsive blissed out krautrock beauty, pulling the listener along in its sparkling, rumbling wake.

"Myriads" is a brief excursion into a heady brew of syncopated rhythms, synth washes and tastefully overdriven guitars that may bring to mind a more folksy Sonic Youth overlaid with a sweetly simple vocal melody so self-effacing it almost isn't there. "Moognes" follows swiftly after and once more we find ourselves in swirly guitars with submerged vocals that beg comparisons with 'Loveless' era My Bloody Valentine, mid-to late period Flaming Lips or the more recent comet-tails of sound favoured by Active Listener favourites The Besnard Lakes. This is no bad thing of course and it is delivered with such attention to detail it's hard to not leave your prejudices at the door and just enjoy it.

Epic closing odyssey, "My Son" starts off all quiet, barely audible voices before a slowly emergent rhythm strongly reminiscent of 'Atmosphere' by Joy Division arrives in your inner-ear. Infinitely more slow burning than the similarly lengthy opener, the track waxes and wanes under manipulated waves of feedback - always the same always different - in classic kosmiche-drone style until finally disgorging itself of its stored up energy and reaching critical mass; flaring into life in an endless spiral of bubbling, burbling theremin-like ring modulation. Imagine 'Big City' by the Spacemen 3 launched into the heliosphere and remotely detonated.This really is cosmic music of the highest calibre, deftly handled and guaranteed to make a dolphin smile. Impressive indeed and a lovely way to spend an idle 40 minutes of your time.

Throughout 'Ngan!' the band known as Gnoomes loom. Gnoomes are a mega-space ship with the controls set firmly for the heart of a distant sun. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on - its time to take a ride with them to who knows where.

Available on digital and CD from Gnoomes bandcamp page (through the streaming link below). They've sold out of vinyl but you can still pick the LP up here (UK/EU) or here (US) if you're quick about it.

16 Dec 2015

Nine Questions with Alasdair Roberts

Photo credit: Drew Farrell
Today, we're bringing our Nine Questions questionaire feature out of retirement temporarily to have a quick chat with prolific Drag City folk artist Alasdair Roberts.

What was the first record you bought?

'Now That's What I Call Music 2' (the UK series, not the US one), which was released in 1984 when I was seven. My favourite song on it was '99 Red Balloons' by Nena, but I also quite liked Tracey Ullman's version of the Madness song 'My Guy's Mad At Me.'

What was the last record you bought?

A Maki Asakawa double LP compilation on Honest Jon's.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?

When I was 13 years old I had a pen pal who lived in New Zealand. His name was Duncan and he was from Richmond, near Nelson in the South Island. Thanks to the internet, I think that the concept of a 'pen pal' is now obsolete. Duncan, if you are reading this: I hope that all is as well as can possibly be with you. Thank you for sending me those mix tapes of New Zealand bands back in the day.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?

I like to think that any potential collaboration could be rewarding, regardless of factors such as the knowledge of either party for the previous work of the other, the level of esteem or otherwise in which each collaborator holds the other, the differing personalities of the collaborators and so on... indeed, there's nothing to rule out the idea that working with one's 'dream collaborator' might just not work. One of my most recent collaborations has been with the Edinburgh-based lute player Gordon Ferries – we recorded the song 'Caleno Custure Me' (mostly influenced by the Alfred Deller version) for a project about songs featured or mentioned in the work of Shakespeare. Gordon's playing is beautiful.

Who should we be listening to right now?

I don't like to be prescriptive, but why not have a listen to the music made by Brigid Power-Ryce?

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?

Since I got a new turntable and speakers last year, I've been enjoying a lot more vinyl – but I listen to music in all formats. There are some LP's in my collection which I'm thinking of digitising so that I can listen to them when I'm travelling.

Tell us about your latest release.

The most recent album is entitled Alasdair Roberts and it came out on Drag City in January 2015. It features ten new self-written songs and was recorded by Sam Smith at Green Door Studios in Glasgow. It's quite different the record which preceded it, A Wonder Working Stone, which featured 13 musicians and big arrangements with drums, bass, fiddle, brass, accordion, viola da gamba, bagpipes and so on. The new one has a few guest appearances – friends on whistle, clarinet and vocals - but is a lot more stripped down, based mostly around acoustic guitar and voice.

What's next for you, musically?

I have plans to record another album of new songs in January next year. The session will begin with drummer Alex Neilson and bass player Stevie Jones, both guys I've had the pleasure of working with often over the years in various ways. Then there'll probably also be other guest musicians involved. I've been touring a lot this year, so now I'm enjoying a spell of time at home during which I can concentrate more on new writing and creating - although I am heading over to Norway for two gigs later this week.

What's for dinner?

I've been invited round to the house of some neighbours for dinner; I have no doubt that the food will be wonderful and that it will be an enjoyable evening all round. They're currently hosting a group of musicians from Niger who are touring in Scotland.

Klaus Johann Grobe – Baby Lass Uns Sein / Peter Stringer-Hye – Sunday Girls EP

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Hey! Check it out: Two short releases from the fabulous Trouble In Mind label just landed in my Inbox!

Klaus Johann Grobe hits us with a new single that contains a double-shot of atmospheric, keys-heavy pop with an extra dose of reverb. Fans of Stereolab will dig both of these tracks with a big shovel. “Baby lass uns sein” is the spacier, more atmospheric of the two songs. It starts with a skeletal groove, lays a bed of organ upon that, and colors the whole thing with a variety of Moog sounds while Grobe croons over the top. Sexy. “Ich bin nicht der Grund”, on the other hand, comes at the listener with a driving bass line – all groove and pick attack – and builds upon that momentum with a drummer that locks in with the bass, instead of the other way around. The rhythmic vocal reinforces the groove. It’s a song made for bobbing your head to.

Peter Stringer-Hye on the other hand strikes a more-blatantly “sophisticated” profile on his "Sunday Girls" EP, with a sound that is more reminiscent of late-60s and early 70s singer-songwriters. The Byrds and Gene Clark, in particular inform the entire affair and their influence is pretty much everywhere on this plate. “When My Eyes are Closed” almost sounds like it could be an outtake from "Mr. Tambourine Man", with jangling 12-string electric guitar reinforcing a melody that sounds like it could have been penned by Roger McGuinn, himself. The title track, and also “Throw Away the Day” however, feature a slightly more country flavor that owes more to Gene Clark than to McGuinn. But some of the subtleties of the arrangements, like certain keyboard sounds and guitar tones, and twists in melody, betray more-recent influences, including Belle and Sebastian and The Apples In Stereo. And it’s these subtle, more-modern touches lurking just below the surface that keep the EP from being merely a throwback or a genre exercise. It’s a wholly enjoyable listen.

My goodness, I love this label.

Thank you, Trouble In Mind!

Get them both directly from the Trouble in Mind webstore here.

15 Dec 2015

King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard - Paper Mâché Dream Balloon

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

I have to tell you dear active listener that I have been a very unwell reviewer of late. I have had a dose of the rocking pneumonia as Chuck Berry once said. It has been tough but thankfully I have the new King Gizzard record to act as a remedy and what a tonic it is.

The new offering is called 'Paper Mache Dream Balloon' and it is a blast from start to finish, cementing their place as Australia's premier purveyors of psych madness. Now, you may have already heard about this record, and how some scribes have been comparing it to 'Da Capo' era Love. I believe this to be borne of the fact that there is much flute on this record. However, any comparisons with Arthur Lee's LA crew are way off beam, this record has almost nothing of the Latin textures and barely concealed introspection that ran through baroque era Love output like a stick of rock. This record is firmly rooted in the UK psych tradition with much more of a Traffic or Beatles feel to it. I am particularly reminded of material to be found on the first two Traffic lp's - whimsical, tripped out innocence and bright arrangements with interesting instrumentation adding colour to the compositions.

In a conscious departure by the band from recent lp length offerings, the record consists of 14 short and sweet, psych-pop tracks, that maintain a high level of quality throughout. The lengthy explorations of 'Quarters' and endless regurgitation of 'I'm In Your Mind Fuzz' are jettisoned in favour of a 'traditional' song based collection with an emphasis on laid back, fairly stoned folky grooves. Opener, 'Sense' brings you straight to the Gizzard table with its opening announcement that to be materialistic and feckless is in fashion. These pronouncements are couched in the same laid back sunny vibe that characterised the Drug Cabin record, "Wiggle Room", which did so much to light up the earlier parts of 2015. It just about gets itself together enough to have you humming along to its gentle musing, all acoustic guitar and meandering woodwind. 'Bone' follows shortly thereafter and is perhaps the closest we get to Arthur Lee territory but is way too bright and warm to be introspective with its cuckoo flute lines and summertime strumming - its just a perfect 2 minute pop song. 'Dirt' follows a similar trajectory with lovely flute and guitar interplay and nice vocal harmonies delivering soothing tones over the top, definitely reminding me of later era work by recently reactivated pop-psych genius Kurt Heasley and his Lilys. And boy its another instant classic - I wonder if Iggy has heard it?

'Trapdoor' is a demented masterpiece, whch may or may not be based on a fever dream of the kids tv programme of the same name from the 1980's where plasticine creatures roamed a dank castle forever in search of people to scare. Its a real curveball of a song, puncturing as it does the serenity of the songs that surround it. Nothing like being wrong-footed though eh? The celebratory ghoulishness of the following 'Cold Cadaver' is another exercise in perversity that reaps rich reward with its insane catchiness.

'Bitter Boogie' treads a well-worn path, nicking the riff from 'Spirit in the Sky' by Norman Greenbaum or 'Orgone Accumulator' by the peerless Hawkwind, or maybe even 'Golden Retriever' by the happily twisted Super Furry Animals. Hell, this may even be inspired by 'On the Road Again' by Canned Heat - it has that instantly recognisable blues riffing that gets your head bobbing and your foot tapping as you bop across the kitchen to grab a beer from the fridge. 'Bloodstain' has hammering piano and a rocksteady beat that Dee Dee Ramone would have dug if here were still with us. 'Time=Fate' is a weird trip - all serpentine melody and super stoned vocals with nonsensical lyrics. Not unlike Pavement come to think of it. 'Most of What I Like' is sweet and memorable with its lovely starry night vocal arrangements, tastefully bold woodwind lines and lazy bossa beat. Closing collage number 'Paper Mache' successfully nicks the riff from every song of the 13 tracks preceding it utilising acoustic guitar and flute in a rural medley of sunny feel good vibes. This mellow mood is promptly turned on its head at the final denouement of the track as the tape is flipped and run backwards at high speed before spinning off into the sky.

And so it came to pass, King Gizzard released a full length record of actual tunes and it was pretty much an amazing experience. Where do they go next? Have they found their forte? My guess would be they do something completely different again as their restlessness will mean they will give the finger to any formula. Either way Paper Mache Dream Balloon is a perfect way to end a very strong year for new releases. Its fair dinkum and up, up and away!

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

14 Dec 2015

Jack Ellister - Tune Up Your Ministers And Start Transmission From Pool Holes To Class O Hypergiants

Reviewed by Maggie Danna

The quality and stylistic diversity on Jack Ellister’s "Tune Up Your Ministers And Start Transmission From Pool Holes To Class O Hypergiants" is what makes it a truly spectacular debut album. Its most prominently rooted in rock, space pop, and folk, with a strong sense of vintage psychedelia. Ellister’s sound brings to mind many comparable bands, such as Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Tea Company, while at the same time continuing to keep it new and fresh.

The first track, “The Man With The Biochopper”, opens with high-energy spaced-out guitars accompanied by vocals rather similar to David Bowie’s on "Aladdin Sane". The song has a strong sense of 1960s psych and also includes organs, as well as a classic lysergic guitar solo in the middle. Aspects of krautrock are apparent too. It ends with increased fervor and screaming vocals while the follow-up, “The Sun Sends Me Hails, Vic”, takes an acoustic turn with lightly strummed guitar and simple vocal harmonies. This is coupled with trumpet and ends in droning bagpipes. At many points this track reminds me strongly of a jig.

A happy-go-lucky sing-song, “Saddle Up The Horse” swirls together acoustic guitar, piano, and squiggling saxophone with whimsical electronica. Tempo and intensity pick up and a very steady rhythm sets the pace. “Saddle Up The Horse” is also a tad bit folksy. The next track, “Calm Adapter” is true to its title, calm. Slow and foggy, it features drowsy oscillating background synths.

“Wishmachine” begins by reciting the album title, “tune up your ministers and start transmission from pool holes to class o hypergiants,” in highly reverbed vocals. For the rest of this short track, which also features jazzy Eastern-inspired guitar funk, extraterrestrial voices chant “love the wishmachine”. It’s both fun and slightly eerie.

“Old South” is an acoustic piece about returning to a place that’s calling one back. Nostalgic and bittersweet, it brings to mind images of pastoral beauty. Though the vocals are mellower and Ellister sings of returning instead of escaping, this track reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s "Going to California". “Curator” is more ominous. Chilling reverb and bass vocals all contribute to a darker sound than previous tracks. Muted and highly melodic, over steady percussion, the spacing of the reverb gives it a pulled apart sort of feel. It fades out after a frolicking of what sounds like musical saws.

The finale, “A Hunter Needs A Gun”, is ethereal and chillingly beautiful. This is one of the most compelling tracks on the album in my opinion. With its spaced-out vibe and melancholic air it sounds similar to a mixture of Syd Barrett and early Soft Machine. Sparkly sci-fi feeling guitars skitter above the percussion and organ in the break and a trailing lingering of sounds gives the song a sense of great depth throughout.

While this is Jack Ellister’s first album, he has previously released covers of classics including Pink Floyd’s “Flaming”, The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, and The Rolling Stones’ “Citadel”, all of which are excellent, and will give you some idea of the sort of ballpark he'd like to find himself in. He’s highly creative but remains accessible through the extreme catchiness of his melodies.

8 Dec 2015

The Most - Invasion Completed

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Swedish beat combo The Most have captured a thrillingly authentic British Invasion vibe on their latest "Invasion Completed". A quick glance at the sleeve suggests a group born out of time, a suggestion that the authentic 66/67 production values do nothing to expel.

The success of these sorts of records relies on more than a carefully observed and cultivated production aesthetic alone however, and second-tier songs often let the side down on these projects (as they often did on records from the original era I might add). No such problem here however. Aside from two well selected and fabulously executed covers ("Louie, Louie" and the Tages' marvelous "Fuzzy Patterns"), these are all originals, and while they carefully follow templates laid down by their forefathers, they're hooky, spirited and concise, and can survive comparison with early albums by the likes of the Kinks and the Animals without feeling second rate; indeed the two strongest songs here (hard to pick these - there aren't any weak ones), "I Don't Care" and "Go Steady", would have been stand out singles and classic rock radio staples by now if they'd been released by either of these bands.

There's evidence of influence outside of these realms creeping in too, with their cover of "Louie, Louie" ending in a lovely flurry of Byrdsian twelve string, while "Move On" has the same sort of distinctive organ hooks that the B-52s were so good at appropriating.

Heaps of care has gone into the packaging too, from the flawless vintage fonts and photo set up on the front, to the black and white layout and flipbacks on the back of the sleeve, this looks and sounds like a really great lost album from 1966/1967.

Vinyl with CD package available directly from the label or the band. Digital available here.

7 Dec 2015

Hey Colossus - Radio Static High

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

London’s Hey Colossus have been around a while, so it’s no longer surprising when every few years they quietly release a severely underrated record that adds to their cult followers’ devotion. I knew Hey Colossus as a noise-loving act a few years back – and loved them; but, since “In Black and Gold,” released just a few months ago, we’re meeting a new version of that same noise, one that’s focused on propulsive rhythms and rigid constructions while maintaining a level of noisy, spaced out bliss. “Radio Static High” is likeable on first listen, but with each subsequent listen I’ve come to like it a bit more. The evolution of Hey Colossus – even from the only eight month old release “In Black and Gold” – is apparent from the very start; Hey Colossus has turned itself into a powerhouse of Krautrock-infused punk, a swaggering motorik juggernaut. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ve got it; their Bandcamp page decided on “doom, rock, psychedelic rock, and heavy rock,” and sure, it’s all there.

“Numbed Out” utilizes a deep, guttural guitar tone that long-time fans will recognize – grungy, doom-laden and biting – but as the song progresses there’s a clear move toward a more orchestrated arrangement. Of course, being the band they are, Hey Colossus clings to the noisy core throughout. This is a band operating at its creative peak, sonically challenging itself and broadening its scope.

“Hop the Rails” is an absolute hypnotic joy. Propulsive bass and drums undercut the guitar flourishes and bombastic, reverbed vocals. It sounds like punk, math rock, and Krautrock all at once.

I may be misunderstanding Hey Colossus’ Bandcamp page, but it seems as though “In Black and Gold” initiated a split from their old ways as their earlier work is now unlisted (and difficult to find online in any form). Whatever they decide for the band’s future releases, “Radio Static High” has converted me into a firm believer.

This one comes with my highest recommendation.

UK / EU listeners can get vinyl, CD or digital through the streaming link below, while US listeners are directed here..

6 Dec 2015

The Dandelion - Seeds, Flowers and Magical Powers of the Dandelion

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Sydney based four-piece the Dandelion have taken their time with the followup to their excellent debut “Strange Case of the Dandelion”, and they’ve certainly upped the ante from that very fine release.

Fronted by Danatalia de Silver, of the Dolly Rocker Movement, the band have developed more of a rapport on this release, as you’d expect after a busy year of live shows and studio time. This results in much tighter interplay between the musicians, and a much closer approximation of the ‘thin wild mercury sound’ that Danatalia hears in her head (‘…musical spells projecting images of galactic space travel, pagan witchcraft, love, ethereal energies and a blend of east meets west..”). Quite a convoluted and individual mixture of the mysteriously pagan and incense-wafting love-in, but it’s blended together and captured perfectly on “Seeds Flowers and Magical Powers.” This is obviously the work of a band that are all on the same wavelength, quite comfortable to pursue their singular vision.

Unusually for an album twelve months in the making, the songs often start tentatively, creating the illusion of spontaneity, and giving the impression that they’re being conjured into existence, or being dragged onto this plane from another far different, distant one.

Suitably enough then it’s quite an exotic brew, which tempers its Beatlesque psychedelic pop with lush sitar textures and sinuous, eastern tinged organs. Danatalia’s voice is often buried in the mix, or shrouded in layers of reverb and effects which make them sound more like whispered incantations than vocals per se, adding an otherworldly element that plays off the more kosmische and Astrological elements of the lyrics perfectly.

But there’s also plenty in the way of memorable songs here too. Style and substance. If you've got a short attention span and want one track to win you over, give “In The Shadow of Light” a quick spin; it encapsulates the blend of styles here perfectly, with its pastoral acoustic guitar figure teased and coaxed until it’s subjugated and assimilated by a serpentine organ part. If you're anything like me, that'll have you sticking around for plenty more.

CD and digital are both available here:

4 Dec 2015

Mystic Braves – Days of Yesteryear

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

If one were strictly to look at the cover of the new Mystic Braves album without listening, it would be easy to assume that the music contained therein would sound something like Loggins & Messina, Bread, or any other of the purveyors of early 70s-type soft rock. It’s all there: the soft focus photo, the shaggy hair, coiffed just so, and the muted color scheme.

But then, we all know the old adage about books and covers and all that.

And it’s clear from the flurry of Wurlitzer organ, and chiming reverb- and trem-heavy clean guitar that opens the leadoff track “To Myself” that this ain’t no Lite Rock; Mystic Braves know their way around a psychedelic pop tune.

Aside from the reverb-heavy guitars and Wurlitzer, there are many other genre-specific sounds given the nod throughout the album. It’s almost as if the band are going through a checklist, just to make sure that there is no mistaking them for anything other than a psych band:
Backwards guitars: check!
Mellotron: check!
Flute: check!
And “Down On Me” features a 12-string electric guitar playing Byrds-like arpeggios before the tune launches into a heavy Iron Butterfly-type sound.

Now, while much attention has been paid to instrumental arrangements, Julian Ducatenzeiler ‘s lead vocals are still right up front, where they should be. Adding to the period-specific sound, it doesn’t hurt that, at times Ducatenzeiler is a dead-ringer for Davy Jones, vocally. Although the melodies carry a gravity and darkness that The Monkees never had.

These are some excellent songs with good, strong melodies. It’s a sound that we’ve all heard many times before, and it’s a sound that we all love. Although, the darkness of the melodies keeps it all from being any sort of a sing-along.

I don’t believe that I’ve heard another album this year that is more-purely, more-squarely in the realm of psychedelic pop. If you want to just immerse yourself in sound and get lost in the swirl, drop the needle on "Days of Yesteryear'. It will certainly do the trick.

LP and digital available here:

3 Dec 2015

Fuchsia - Fuchsia

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ah, here's a timely reissue to get (re)acquainted with. Cherry Red continue their tasteful and discerning 'official' reissue programme with the debuty long player of underground heroes, Fuchsia. Originally issued in the UK on the tiny Pegasus Records in 1971, it is a singular piece of work that doesn't sit comfortably in any one particular spot but agitates and spins a web of its own sometimes chaotic and shady muse - part acid folk, part progressive rock, part psych, all underpinned with a haunted, furtive vibe. Fuchsia were most definitely digging their own scene.

Opener 'Gone with the Mouse' is all twists and turns with galloping male lead and haunting female backing vocals overlaying a claustrophobic vibe that comes off like a slightly more hinged Comus. It certainly grabs your attention and sets the tone for much of the record with its vertiginous spirals and atmosphere of edginess. Following next, 'A Tiny Book' comes on like a bleaker, more bucolic 'Forever Changes' with some lovely swooping cello and a minor key guitar motif that may or may not have a passing acquaintance with 'A House is not a Motel' before launching into a phantasmagorical bossa-nova section where 'cadaverous hands reach out to hold me' and coming to a halt with some martial drumming, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and more lovely cello work. It certainly is a trip.

'Another Nail' emerges from some foreboding and caterwauling strings to reveal itself as a folk-rock stomper, all descending electric guitar riff and straight ahead tempo. If Free had written 'Alright Now' after a lost weekend on mushrooms and laudanum it may have come out like this. Well at least the first 3 minutes - the second half of the song breaks loose and flings itself, into a sonic pool of dirge and abstract lyrics before submerging out of sight and sound.

"Shoes and Ships" offers some relief with its swimming strings, major chord progressions but still has a yearning quality to it that barely again reflects the sense of dread that permeates pretty much everything on offer here. It is a testament to the skill of Tony Durant as principal writer and arranger that this approach doesn't descend into an endurance test of melancholia but he is a redoubtable ship's captain and his boat rides the waves with a strong sense of direction. He is heading somewhere.

'The Nothing Song' is a nihilistic exercise with some fairly dissonant guitar riffing, queasy sea-shanty strings, martial beats and a lyrical worldview that shows how quickly the optimism held by many just a few years earlier was being extinguished as reality bit back. 'Me and My Kite' is the most recognisable track here, having decorated several compilations over the years and also having inspired a bunch of Swedish inner-space cadets to name their band after it. This activity seems to have coaxed the Fuchsia main-man out of retirement and he has recorded with them. The song itself is one of those classic carefree, immediately familiar, slightly melancholic numbers that typifies the era in which it was conceived - a little frayed and burnt out but delightful nonetheless. It is also the song that best suits lead vocalist and songwriter, Tony Durant's reedy vocals that may sound a little strained elsewhere to some. A lovely daydream of a song that could easily have graced one of the great Kevin Ayers records from the early 1970's. That good.

Ceremonies are concluded with the minor key kiss-off, "Just Anyone" which has a lovely line in lap steel guitar before evaporating on a cloud of fingerpicked acoustic guitar. Like much of the material here it feels somewhat unresolved. Unfortunately for Fuchsia, that resolution would not be found in any subsequent recorded material by the band as they made their exit without releasing anything further (until Tony released a belated sequel in 2013).

So there you have it. A welcome reprise for the Fuchsia LP. Whether the recently reactivated Fuchsia has it in their locker to come back and write something as substantial and memorable as this record remains to be seen, In the meantime Tony Durant can reflect on the fact that few musicians make anything as good as this. Investigate.

Available here (UK/EU) and here (US).

1 Dec 2015

Bronco Bullfrog - Marmalade / (She's Having An) Existential Crisis

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

After recording a bunch of rather good revival records during a period of time where such things went largely unappreciated, and by all accounts having a rather miserable time making them ("the records we made between 1996 and 2004 were almost always done under duress and almost always no fun... we had no producer/svengali figure to guide us and made a lot of mistakes and bad judgements.."), it was no surprise that Bronco Bullfrog called it quits back in 2006-ish.

The lads kissed and made up though, and have been back at it for a few years now, recording in a fashion that suits them, releasing through labels sympathetic to their cause (Fruits de Mer, State Records), and generally enjoying being in control of their own destinies in a musical climate that's receptive to big soaring pop songs that sound like they ruled the UK airwaves in 1967/1968.

And here's two more of these aforementioned gems, their third 7" since reforming, this time courtesy of those lovely chaps at Sunstone Records, which is a guarantee of quality in and of itself.

A-Side "Marmalade" is ace, a catchy wee gem sounding like it's been plucked straight off of one of those Deram singles that saw former mod bands going a wee bit psychedelic, an inventive Whoism here, a perfectly executed dual backwards guitar solo there. Fizzy pop goodness.

And that b-side? Well, it really should be much too wordy for its own good, but somehow these three manage to deliver a mouthful, latching it onto a wistful verse melody which sounds like a chorus until the real chorus hits, and elevates the song into something of a sugar-rush pop epic, all laced with that lovely Deram sparkle.

How about an album now huh?

Available directly from Sunstone Records.

30 Nov 2015

The Besnard Lakes - The Golden Lion

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

The new three song EP "The Golden Lion" from The Besnard Lakes is upbeat, lush, and exquisitely rendered from start to finish. They’ve pulled out all the blissful stops that a dream pop fan could want, from the ear candy of “The Motorway” to the golden-throated vocals of Jace Lasek on the title track, “Golden Lion.”

One is often reminded of Brian Wilson, only elevated to another sonic level with many glistening layers of guitar and vocals. “The Forest” is more laid back and less 'in-your-face' with its musical arrangements, allowing the sound to expand around the listener’s headspace. Keyboards are employed smartly, never overwhelming Lasek’s angelic falsetto, and married to the orchestral arrangement, it works its charm on anyone who takes the time to queue up these three songs.

It bodes well for the new album "A Coliseum Complex Museum", out on January 22, and is quite the treat for longtime fans as well as new listeners who enjoy chamber pop with dreamy overtones.

Available here (UK), and here (US).

29 Nov 2015

The Telescopes - Splashdown The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

When Creation Records rescued the Telescopes from legal strife with their previous label, they were riding the crest of a wave that had seen My Bloody Valentine and Ride unexpectedly enter the top forty, little knowing that there was even bigger to come. The Telescopes had done all that they could with their earlier confrontational noiserock sound, and Creation were asking for hits. This exhaustive double CD collection charts the course that Telescopes mainman Stephen Lawrie sailed trying to provide that hit, concurrently chronicling the band's impressive evolution over the course of three years, four EPs and one very special album, all included here with rare bonus tracks.

Recent trends have seen shoegaze and psychedelia lumped together by the music press, but back in 1990 this wasn't so common a marriage. The music fashioned by the Telescopes over this period is among the most psychedelic created during the initial era of shoegaze, and sounds thrilling and forward-looking to contemporary ears, even if it only sold marginally at the time - truly a case of being too ahead of the times for their own audience. It's never too late to discover a good thing though, and "Splashdown" is a treasure trove ripe for rediscovery.

While their earlier noise-rock tendencies still rear their heads occasionally here, they're reined in and only one of the many textures which make up a much more expansive, ethereal psychedelia that acknowledges its influences by paying tribute to the Beach Boys (on the fabulous Dennis Wilson / Charles Manson penned "Never Learn Not To Love"), the Velvet Underground and the Who, while tracing its own startling trajectory.

The EPs found on disc one become progressively more adventurous and experimental, as the release dates tick over, with the material found on the two 1991 EPs "Celeste" and "Flying" containing some startling moments, particularly the lovely Eastern psychedelia of "Flying" and "Soul Full of Tears" while the hooky "The Sleepwalk", would have been a contender if released as a single a few years later. There's never a dull moment on these EPs and the balance between expansive buzzsaw guitars and swooning dreampop vocals never tips too far either way.

Disc two focuses on "#Untitled Second", the band's only full length album for Creation, and the culmination of everything that the EPs were building towards. It's a truly great album, and something of a lost classic, the sort of album which is routinely rediscovered and reappraised, but until now has escaped that treatment. The noise and rock tropes are toned down even further here, although they're still important elements which are expertly manipulated on tracks like "Ocean Drive" to create an expansive psychedelic wash. Elsewhere, acoustic instrumentation is prevalent - "You Set My Soul" even sees the rhythm section dabble with a Pentangleish folk/jazz hybrid. It's not an album that's easy to convey with words as Lawrie concedes in the sleevenotes: "It's really hard to explain where that album is coming from. It started out as an abstract obsession with warmth and got stranger from there." Lawrie also notes that he was "searching for the character of the instruments and their environment" as much as the songs themselves, and the band's obsessive attention to tonal detail has resulted in an album that doesn't sound like it has dated a day.

The original Telescopes lineup splintered soon after, perhaps sensibly so - where was there to go after this?

Exceptional stuff that requires and rewards obsessive listening.

Available here (UK) or here (US).

28 Nov 2015

Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Review and interview by Tom Sandford

The Byrds’ wingspan of influence stretched across three full decades and flew through the sounds made by some of the most important bands in the history of rock, including Big Star, the Jayhawks, R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Hüsker Dü, Echo and the Bunnymen and countless others. For a time it was de rigueur – if not downright cliché – to see the Byrds name-checked in almost any band’s bio. They were part of the holy trinity of influential B-named bands: Beatles, Beach Boys, and Byrds.

But to everything there is a season, and an apparent decline in the band’s influence on popular music seemed to coincide with the deaths of two of its original members, Gene Clark (in 1991) and Michael Clarke (1993). Notwithstanding this decline, the Byrds have always flown high and commanded serious respect among certain pockets of fans and bands alike – folks in Northern England especially, for some reason. Since 1990, we’ve seen the likes of the La’s, the Stone Roses, the Coral and Shack flying the jangle-pop flag. Since 2007, Kontiki Suite, a talented sextet from England’s Lake District, has continued in this tradition, evidence of which can be readily found on their sophomore release, "The Greatest Show On Earth".

As with their debut release (2013’s "On Sunset Lake"), Kontiki Suite proudly flies its Byrds banner via some obvious stylistic hat-tips to 1968’s "The Notorious Byrd Brothers". This time out, the band boasts a batch of impressive new Rickenbacker-based janglers (mainly from the pen of guitarist Ben Singh) and a tougher sound from the rest of the band (Jonny Singh, lap steel guitar; Marcus Dodds, guitar; Mario Renucci, bass; Chris Brown and Craig Bright on drums and percussion respectively). The result is a cohesive, 50-minute flight high above exquisitely atmospheric psych/country-rock/chamber pop soundscapes.

The opening moments of guitar/rim shots in the rousing, Golden Smog-like opener “Bring Our Empire Down” recall David Crosby’s serene “Dolphin’s Smile,” after which some Neil Young-like crunch is thrown in as the song gathers steam. “My Own Little World” features the kind of textured ‘n’ trippy triple-guitar interplay (including lap steel and 12-string Rickenbacker) that characterizes the overall tone of the album – tone that is often upended by deliciously abrupt shifts in tempo: the lads in Kontiki Suite are more than happy to jolt you out of the hypnotized state in which they deftly placed you. Occasional, judiciously chosen blasts of harmonica tug on the same heartstrings as in Big Star’s “Life is White.”

“Free From Sound” and “Here for You Now” are tremendous pop songs, the kind of tracks that, back in the day, would’ve jumped out of an AM radio and grabbed you by the throat. The former features a keening pedal steel hook that’s hell-bent on becoming your next earworm. The latter blends a “Ticket To Ride” beat with power-poppy rhythm reminiscent of Gene Clark’s evergreen “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.”

Elsewhere, the band flexes its muscle on two lengthy guitar workouts, “Burned” (with its nod to Younger Than Yesterday’s “Renaissance Fair”) and the slow-burning “Under the Rug,” while “All I Can Say” shows the effortlessness with which Singh’s vocals can reconcile an ostensibly bouncy rhythm with a melancholic melody. In places he sounds uncannily like Gary Louris. Fans of "Sound of Lies"-era Jayhawks would feel right at home with this release.

Ultimately, "The Greatest Show On Earth" reveals increased depth, both in Ben Singh’s writing and the band’s collective vision. Kontiki Suite has created much more than a simple paean to the legacy of the Byrds; they have taken vital steps in forging a legacy of their own.

Chatting up the Byrds with Kontiki Suite’s Craig Bright and Benjamin Singh

Tell me about the cover/title concept for the new record?

Craig Bright: During the time period in which we wrote and recorded The Greatest Show On Earth, three of the six band members have been fortunate enough to become parents. One of the lucky fathers, Jonny Singh, wrote the opening song on the album, Bring Our Empire Down, about the juxtaposition of the joy and virgin challenges of parenthood and, one line in particular in the song, refers to "the greatest show on earth"; Jonny's way of describing the wonder of witnessing the miracle of your own child being born. Moreover, when we identified the title of the album, it served to conjure a vision of an old school creepy freak-show in our minds.

So, looking at the front cover of the album, you will see a couple of key elements: One, a crowd observing the show; and two, the decidedly freaky dream sequence of a child at peace, asleep. Our brief was realised by the fantastic Luke Insect, a U.K. based designer.

Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.

C.B.: The Byrds, and their various related bands and solo projects, are very important to Kontiki Suite. As children of the nineties, we were able to discover and appreciate The Byrds vicariously through a love of the bands they themselves inspired and influenced, in which I would include The Stone Roses, Ride and Rain Parade, among many others.

It never fails to blow my mind when I consider the volume and diversity of the music The Byrds produced, particularly between 1965 and 1969. I guess we would cite The Notorious Byrd Brothers as the zenith of their output, as it is a beautifully perfect culmination of all of the best elements of their albums (folk, pop, psychedelia and country). Undeniably, [it is] the template for our sound.

Of course, the consistency of The Byrds' output weakened thereafter, but the void was more than filled by the solo albums of McGuinn, Crosby, Gram Parsons and most importantly to us, Gene Clark. For me to attempt to tell you how vital Gene's post-Byrds music is would be complete folly. Personally, my favourite Clark song is “The True One” (from 1974’s No Other). Pretty much musical perfection in its simplest form as far as I'm concerned.

So, yes, The Byrds are a significant, direct influence on us, musically, aesthetically and culturally.

Take me through the steps in which a Kontiki Suite song typically comes together.

Ben Singh: A Kontiki Suite song will almost always start life as an acoustic piece – a folk song, I guess. If it sounds good with just the vocal and an acoustic it gives the song a good chance of sounding good embellished. The song is usually complete in terms of structure and groove before being presented to the rest of the band and if it's a song I've wrote and I've a strong idea of how it should sound I will sometimes record a demo in my home studio.

Down at the rehearsal room I'd play a handful of tunes to the band, either the recorded demos or just with the acoustic and we'd just jam through them. It's always nice if we hit the groove instantly. If it feels good we'll run with it and then we'll start to work on the guitars in more detail.

With the song beginning as an acoustic song I'll play the rhythm guitar while singing the melody. Jonny Singh plays a lap steel adding a kind of 'movement' to the sound, swooning in and out. We usually add a quite a bit of reverb and delay to give it more texture. Marcus Dodds plays a Telecaster for the majority of this album, usually either a clean tone with a touch of reverb or a classic fuzz. He tends to play the fills in between the vocal lines and more often than not he takes the solos.

Guitar textures are an intrinsic part of your sound, especially in terms of the interplay between them. Is this something you spend a lot of time consciously working on? Or is it just a natural by-product of how the band writes?

B.S.: The interchange between the slide and the lead occur quite naturally and aren't overly worked on; I guess that has came with the experience of playing together for the length of time we have. All the guitar lines are based around the vocal lines and melody and we try not to have too much going on at the same time. On the recordings I'll put down an acoustic track, this adds a percussive dynamic and then a picking 12-string Rickenbacker. I tend play this through a compressor with reverb. On a lot of the songs this is the main guitar of the track and other guitars play off it. The sound is very deliberate and we do consciously work on it but it does come very naturally to us. I think the reason why the three electric guitar parts work together so well is due to contrasting styles we play.

Vinyl, CD and digital all available here:

27 Nov 2015

Brian Jonestown Massacre - Pish / Mini Album Thingy Wingy

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

It’s business as usual for psych veterans BJM on this new seven song EP which is chock full of droney goodness and sublime trippy pastiches.

Opening tune “Pish” is a collaboration with Tess Parks, and is almost orchestral, containing all the requisite majesty one could expect. Perhaps it is chamber psych, a new genre? Employed throughout the record are fuzzed out guitars, programmed strings and horns, flute, and a Slovakian pastoral bent (“Prsi Prsi”, sung and co-written by Vladimir Nosal) which suits the band well. There's a 13th Floor Elevators cover, “Dust”, which retains the 60s flavor of the original and also includes a guest spot from Alex Maas, frontman with Austin psych outfit The Black Angels, who contributes jug playing in tribute to the Elevators’ electric jug player, Tommy Hall. “Leave It Alone” is classic BJM toking with some shoegazey Verve smoke tossed into the blend. “Mandrake Handshake” is another prime slice of acoustic psych beauty, and one has to wonder if writing these songs is as natural as breathing to Anton Newcombe. “Here Comes the Waiting For The Sun” comes off as a great lost Velvets classic, complete with cool phased vocals.

Another worthwhile outing for this longtime California-by-way-of-Berlin psychedelic collective then.

Available here (US), and here (UK).


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: