31 Mar 2015

Dark Sinfonia "Plague Tales"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Dark Sinfonia, (Fear Incorporated and Voodoo Bible's William Westwater and Stephen Curran from Sensory Savage) unveil an album both utterly contagious and terrifying in 'Plague Tales'. An ambitious, unique and truly unsettling work, this is essentially a concept album about The Black Death; a sinister song suite that incorporates electronica, experimentalism, dark psych and folk with a healthy (or sickly) dose of sophisticated gothic drama.

Opener 'A Murderous Breath' is a bewitching medieval stomp, Westwater's evocative and occasionally disturbing vocals adding tension and dynamism, his voice recalling that of Peter Hammill, Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy and modern day Scott Walker. Electronics underpin his snarls and choral flourishes, a funereal drumbeat keeping time. Next, 'Black Death' is propelled along on the sound of a solitary snare, organ and percussion gradually joining to add layer upon layer of atmosphere and dread. Fans of the dark dramatics of The Virgin Prunes and The Tiger Lillies will adore this. ‘Prospero’s bleak brass and medieval woodwind is framed by Westwater's versatile and operatic performance; make no mistake this music with heart, albeit a coal black one. 'Krampus', a musical telling of the European myth of Christmas devils who steal children who have been naughty, is truly eerie; a sinister hurdy gurdy refrain and tolling bell adding suitable hallucinatory menace and backing. However, whilst genuinely creepy, there is also a playful element to Dark Sinfonia, a cackling black humour that revels in the absurdity of life and death.

'Stretch Out Thy Hand’ opens with the sound of chimes, bells and Westwater's whispering, deranged vocals to great effect; this is not an album to play alone or in the dark. The bells ring out, overlapping until...silence. 'A Wraith Rose' begins with the children’s nursery rhyme 'Ring A Ring A Roses', said to be inspired by the plague and the idea popular at the time that the very air and the noxious smells it carried was the source of the disease. The song itself is a twisted reflection of said nursery rhyme, an inverse chant that reeks of Middle Ages menace and doom. 'Hell's Executioner' is a bodhran and drum led anthem, curiously uplifting and invigorating despite the blacker than black subject matter. 'Bring Out Your Dead' s disquieting plainsong and undertaker’s bell merge with the repeated cry of the song title; again this has a sinister nursery rhyme quality to it. The traditional 'The Weaver's Bonny' is a revelation, its folky choral intro and celtic pipes a reminder that one half of Dark Sinfonia reside in the Lothians in Scotland which was itself greatly touched by the plague on several occasions. A series of nine questions and riddles reportedly asked by the devil himself, the track is an album highlight and is a hugely accomplished piece of modern dark folk. ‘Within This Silken Fur' follows, gorgeously gothically tinged chamber music providing the perfect accompaniment to Westwater's passionate and emotive performance. Ending in an echoing choir of despair, this is a series of hair on the back of the neck moments. ‘Dark Sinfonia', a whimsical and unsettling organ waltz, offers a musical interlude (and there is something of a musical play, something theatrical about this album) before 'The Red Death' is proclaimed by discordant bells and woodwind. Here, Westwater dispassionately recounts the effects of the pestilence; the effect is mesmerizing. This is not background music, to listen to whilst performing mundane chores; this is a performance that demands your complete and rapt attention and terror. The album closes with an alternate version of 'Stretch Out Thy Hand', a ghostly female soprano drifting under foreboding drones and Westwater's driven and dramatized vocals. Recalling Current 93's 'The Starres Are Marching Home' or some of their more haunted work with Steven Stapleton, this is a fitting end to an epic and hugely successful recording.

Pitch black, carnivalesque and sounding unlike anything else you will ever hear, you are highly advised to don your plague mask, gather your nosegays and enter the underworld of Dark Sinfonia. You will not regret it.

Released on the splendid Reverb Worship label in strictly limited quantities in a beautiful, handmade sleeve featuring torn and pasted front panels. Each CD comes with either a full colour badge or a sticker which features the cover artwork and, during the first month of release, each buyer of the CD directly from the label will be entered into a draw to win one of two specially commissioned t-shirts (large size) featuring the cover artwork. Order here.

Nine Questions with Sky Picnic

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

Today.... Sky Picnic.

What was the first record you bought?
Chris: The first cassette I bought was Pearl Jam "Vs" in 1993. My first vinyl was the Beatles "Yesterday & Today" (my copy of course was the re-shot cover and not the butcher one). I had just discovered the US versions of their discography, and this one was tops on my wish list, despite being a weird compilation of sorts.
Pete: Buddy Holly From The Master Tapes" double-LP when I was 12. Best purchase I've ever made, (still have it of course)!

What was the last record you bought?
Chris: "Picture You" by the Amazing. These guys have been one of my favorites for a few years now and my anticipation for this album had been through the roof, and it certainly did not disappoint. I can't wait to totally immerse myself in this one.
Leah: Stardeath and White Dwarfs "Wastoid"
Pete: "With The Beatles" (2014 analog remaster) just gets better and better somehow...
Chris: It's getting better all the time.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Leah: I have mole on the bottom of my second smallest toe on the left. Most people don't know this because they aren't generally looking at the bottom of my feet.
Pete: Most people know too much already. I find it hard to stop talking about myself. (See? Case in point)....
Chris: Some people have religion; I have Seinfeld. If anyone wants to take me on (or the whole band if we're doing teams) in Seinfeld trivia, prepare to lose!

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Chris: Robert Fripp. I would want him to produce our album (and maybe guest on Mellotron and a solo). I think he would bring some zen to the process, but also, I trust his insight and experience. (Plus of course, him commenting on each take with his Frippisms would be priceless).
Pete: Hendrix! Why? Well....as a drummer, I'm sure I wouldn't keep up, but it'd be such a thrill going down in flames in that context. Hendrix seemed like such a nice guy he probably wouldn't make me feel too bad about it.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
Pete: Yes, we should be listening to The Who. Or Yes. Both are amazing!
Leah: Stardeath.
Chris: Wand. The Amazing. And all of the latest King Crimson official archive series.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
Chris: Vinyl. I suppose the simplest reasoning is sound quality, particularly that of a great recording/ master. Tangibility as well; it gives the music a life and a value lost in the digital age.
Leah: Vinyl for the experience, digital for convenience, CD's for when you don't want to carry vinyl home, but you still want to buy an album at a store.
Pete: Vinyl, always!

Tell us about your latest release. 
Pete: I don't know much about it. I seem to have already forgotten most of it.
Chris: "Her Dawn Wardrobe" is really the next logical step in the evolution of the band. We have built upon the psychedelic rock foundation we previously created by exploring and introducing elements from other genres. The songs all breathe a bit, as we worked on creating space in the music. It's a warmer and quite inviting, but also a dark set of songs that I think takes a few listens to really resonate. And we couldn't be prouder of it.

What's next for you, musically? 
Chris: Finishing up the promotion behind the new album and playing tons of shows behind it. I've been writing again lately, and we'll probably start to approach those ideas later this year. While not necessarily easier than before, the songs come about more organically, with way less thinking involved; a good song should really write itself.
Pete: I have no idea. That's I think the joy of it and what keeps it from becoming boring, after all these years. I've never had any idea where I'm going musically but you let the music guide you naturally.

What's for dinner? 
Leah: Awesome take out from il Bagatto (best roasted chicken and bruscetta EVER)
Chris: Homemade Indian curry (vegetarian Jalfrezi) along with lentil soup.
Pete: There's this deli down on Delancey Street that I swear I've been to 5-star restaurants that don't have as fresh, quality food...and all food, all day, all night. You name it, they make it, and it's amazing. $5-$6.


30 Mar 2015

Alice Artaud "Ouroboros"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

"Ouroboros" is probably one of the weirdest psych-folk albums ever. It tells the tale in French of Ouroboros, a giant snake who sends dreams to children and of a Masked Queen who wants to kill him. I know this because it is exactly what the press release says. I'm not usually that reliant on the press release for info (or indeed direct quotes), but "Ouroboros" is a French language album, and I sadly am not a French speaker. So bearing in mind that I'm unlikely to have anything insightful to offer in regards to the story, let's continue.

Why would I recommend an album that tells a story I'm unable to understand, you may ask? Because it's a hauntingly lovely thing, and if I can get this much enjoyment out of it without understanding a word, those that speak the language are going to be in absolute Heaven.

"Ouroboros" has a short running time - around 28 minutes - and probably a quarter of that time is made up of spoken word passages. These spoken word passages are supported by atmospheric incidental music that ensures the spell isn't broken for those of us for whom the words are but a pleasing sound. But elsewhere is where the true magic lies. The voice and guitar of Alice Artaud (who wrote all of these pieces) is at the forefront, and she does a fabulous job indeed, but equal billing should be given to Will Z (who himself has a fabulous album out soon). Taking on the arrangement and production duties, and playing an impressive array of instruments in support of Artaud's vision, Will Z has created a bewitchingly mysterious setting with a deep psychedelic undercurrent that makes it sound like a more accentuated version of a seventies acid-folk rarity. Multitracking Artaud's voice and casting it amid an array of sitars, mellotrons and other lysergic instruments, these two have created something of a timeless classic, and one that belongs in your collection right next to C.O.B, Stone Angel, Mellow Candle, and the likes. And chances are, if those albums weren't quite as 'acid' as you'd hoped for when you finally got a chance to hear them, this will  provide the trippy edge that you were looking for.

One of the best I've heard this year.

CD and digital available here:

29 Mar 2015

The Silence "S/T"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Following the release of 2007's "In Stormy Nights", long running Japanese psychedelic legends Ghost went on hiatus. Frontman Masaki Batoh admits that he considered giving up music for good, but a chance meeting with former Ghost colleague Futoshi Okano in Spain in 2013 ignited a spark that led to the official disbandment of Ghost (thirty years after forming), and the announcement of their new band, The Silence.

Joined by Jan Stigter on bass and Ryuichiro Yoshida on flute and saxophone, The Silence's first, self titled album was recorded entirely on analogue, which gives these recordings an immediacy that makes them sound like they were recorded live in the studio.

I'll admit that I'm not overly familiar with the majority of  Ghost's large body of work, so I can't comment on whether the Silence is a departure or not from Batoh's previous work, but I can confirm that this is top notch stuff. Using a mixture of acoustic and electric instruments and tapping into an exploratory mindset, these four seem to relish the opportunity to play off of each other. There's an early progressive feel to much of this, with the tight riffery of "Pesach" bringing King Crimson to mind - as does Yoshida's saxophone work elsewhere. "Lemon Iro No Cannabis" is a grand prog thing too, performed at a stately pace. These more rock-oriented numbers offer an immediate payoff, but there's another side to this record that is even better. "Triptycon" strips back the electric guitars for an appealingly rambling folk workout, with a distinctly medieval twist that wouldn't be out of place on a vintage John Renbourn album. Its descent into lysergic atmospherics and eventual rebirth, heralded by the memorable flute motif is quite remarkable. As is the band's deconstruction of the ancient folk standard "Black Is The Colour of My True Love's Hair", which features a remarkable vocal performance from Batoh, and a surprisingly bludegeoning breakdown after several of the verses.

I'd wager that there are quite a few people out there waiting with bated breath for this, and they're not going to be disappointed with what they hear.

Available here on vinyl, and CD.

Nine Questions with Junkboy

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

Today.... Mik Hanscomb of Junkboy.

What was the first record you bought? 
The first LP I bought was Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds from a second hand record shop in Southend. Still dig that fish-eye cover photo.

What was the last record you bought? 
I bought a compilation album New Orleans Soul - The Original Sound Of New Orleans Soul 1960 – 1976, which came out recently on Soul Jazz Records. It’s another sublime Soul Jazz compilation; some of the Aaron Neville tracks on there are amazing!

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
Not long after I first moved to Hove I got a summer job in a local supermarket; on two separate occasions I served Nick Cave a Sunday paper and fags and we made polite chat about the weather, it was quite surreal.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why? 
Growing up in the suburbs in Southend I used to listen to a lot of albums on Thrill Jockey label by artists like Sea and Cake, Jeff Parker, Tortoise et al, the albums were credited ‘recorded at Soma Electronic Studios by John McEntire’. It’d be amazing to do a Junkboy album with John at the controls in Soma.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
There’s a lot of great stuff out there… I’d recommend singer/songwriter Jessica Pratt’s new album On Your Own Love Again. I’ve read a couple of mixed reviews recently but I think it’s a great album- beautiful melodies, vocal harmonies and chord progressions throughout.

Vinyl, CD or digital? 
Vinyl has the best sound for me, especially if you listen on a decent hi fi set up, not that I’m an audiophile! As someone who grew up pre-internet I guess I still prefer the physical format; I like the tangibility of artwork to look at and notes to read etc. But I love being able to take my music collection out with me. I hope there is still a market that caters for both digital and physical formats in the future.

Tell us about your latest release. 
My brother and I made an album called Sovereign Sky, which came out in December 2014 on Enraptured Records. It’s our most song-based album yet; I would describe the sound as pastoral, psychedelic folk with elements of baroque pop. Fans of Mark Eric, The Left Banke, Eric Matthews, Bert Jansch and music from the Laurel Canyon should hopefully dig it!

What's next for you, musically? 
My bro and I are promoting the new Junkboy album this year and playing some gigs, we’ll hopefully get round to writing some new tunes later in the year. I’m drumming for a friend’s band; a glam rock outfit called Prissy Lips. A few friends and I also put on a psychedelic club night called Eight Miles High. It’s on bi-monthly at the Komedia in Brighton and we spin psych tunes old and new plus there are awesome oil wheel projections courtesy of Innerstirngs Psychedelic Lightshow - outtasight!

What's for dinner? 


27 Mar 2015

Black Fruit / Factotum "Split 2"

Reviewed by Maggie Danna

Black Fruit/Factotum "Split 2" is an energetic, diverse garage record, second in Stolen Body Records’ split LP series. Black Fruit opens up the album, delivering a dark mutation of high-energy surf garage punk. They are a great example of an awesome surf-inspired band coming out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as are Heaters whose album "Solstice" I reviewed a couple weeks ago. Black Fruit’s spooky, vibrato–tinged baritone vocals really remind me of The Wytches, and are simultaneously wistful and vivacious. A touch of blues is felt in the band’s strong walking bass lines and infectious rhythms. “Letter” is a particularly well-crafted track about lost love with a rough yet catchy guitar jangle, a mournfully sung, melancholic melody, and pounding percussion. The song even has a bit of a 1950s pop feel to it, though it is certainly much darker.

Bristol, UK garage punk Factotum’s contribution is heavy, often verging on metal while covering an incredible range of genres and styles over the course of their five songs. “All My Friends Like Garage” combines intense vocals over a space rock wall of sound interjected with guitar feedback. The track closes with an upbeat, music box-esque melody. There’s a bit of jazz in “The Place I Go,” which alternates between smooth guitar, intense percussion, and metal vocals, with electronic instrumental chaos at the end. “The Place I Go” has a touch of funk, fluctuating between frantic guitar shredding and experimental instrumentals and percussion. The finale, “Loose Cannon Cops With Big Fat Heroin Hands,” is calm and delicate with eerie yet comfortingly dreamy reverbing kazoo swoops, soft female vocals, and guitar plucks. “Loose Cannon Cops With Big Fat Heroin Hands” is extremely reminiscent of Gong, especially their song “Glad to Sad to Say” from "Magick Brother". Though way more laid-back than the rest of the album and highly ethereal, it perfectly fits the mood as it brings the album to a close.

If you have even the slightest liking for garage rock, I highly recommend checking out Black Fruit and Factotum; both bands are impressively innovative and deeply satisfying.

Vinyl available here. Digital available below:

25 Mar 2015

Craig and Yikii "Near-Death Flower"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

"Near-Death Flower", a collaboration between Sheffield’s Craig Manga (of Manga Bros) and China's Yikii Tong, has been described as 'dream pop with night terrors', an entirely fitting accolade for this most ethereal, yet barbed EP. A hazy, shimmering mix of Cocteau Twins reverb and Cranes style vocals, this is an otherworldly, unsettling and beautiful work that drifts and floats on entirely its own plain.

Opening track 'Whale in the Belly' begins with Yikii's vocalisations, her crystalline voice stretching over clouds of somnambulistic electronics and gentle percussion. It all feels delightfully and slightly out of kilter with reality, an Alice in Wonderland air of lysergic dreaminess. For fans of 4AD acts such as His Name Is Alive, This Mortal Coil and Modern English this is essential listening. 'Ghosten' starts with echoed glockenspiel and some gorgeous backwards melodies that seem to orbit around each other, creating a late night or early morning haze that both disorientates and enraptures. Yikii's layered vocals intertwine; creating a ghost choir of disquiet and beauty that hovers over the electronic buzzes and whirrs before fading into the ether. 'Last Ghost Story', with its ringing harmonics and treated guitar is a harsher environment but still icily reflective and frozen in sheer loveliness, whilst Yikii intones over the growing chimes and tension. You need to hear this; it is a masterclass of carefully and deliberately controlled atmospherics and brooding, layered ethereal pop. The guitar becomes ever more apocalyptic, the bells more frantic until all disappears into the black of night. Closer 'Tactile' is quiet, insistent, yet filled with warped electronica. Yikii's haunted vocals and analogue wails and hums create a cathedral of sound that suggests a very modern form and interpretation of psychedelia. Dreamlike, unique, utterly creative and in its own universe, Near-Death Flower is a rabbit hole all of its own.

Available now on bandcamp this is a stunning, unearthly and accomplished EP that Ivo -Watts would have snapped up to be on his label back in the day. Do not let this go by; there is perfect psychedelic pop here, left of centre perhaps but bewitching and entrancing almost definitely.

24 Mar 2015

The Owl Service " Three Inverted Nines"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

"Three Inverted Nines" is not a new release as such, but has been freshly reissued along with a selection of other items from the Owl Service. These prolific spook folkers have recently unveiled a subscription service (which you can read more about here), but are also making titles available individually, in excruciatingly limited CD-R (20 copies of this one), and digital formats.

"Three Inverted Nines" was originally released for Halloween last year, and consists of reinventions of Danzig tunes in the Owl Service's typical, revisionist folk-rock style - think "Liege & Lief" crossed with "Children of the Stones", to get your bearings, although this is notably more sparse than the Owl Service's normal fare. These skeletal arrangements up the creep factor exponentially, with plenty of dark spaces for sinister presences to hide.

While the novelty of the idea may seem in danger of outweighing the results, this is very carefully judged and tastefully executed, with Danzig's melodrama given understated readings which re-channel aggression into a sinister disquiet.

"Diabolos '88" is an ominous opener - a sinister, half speed May Day procession with full on synth choirs that suggest a Lucio Fulci scored "Wicker Man". Elsewhere, the voices of Fiona Radford, Diana Collier, Nancy Wallace and Mr Owl Service himself, Steven Collins, are used to desolate effect, none more so than on the ghostly, circular outro of "Come Back", where Nancy Wallace's voice truly sounds like it's projecting through the veil.

A great starting point for the Owl Service neophyte, and one which will make you want to delve much deeper.

Limited edition CD-R and download available here:

Nine Questions with the Owl Service

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

Today.... Steven Collins from the Owl Service.

What was the first record you bought?
That was the album 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' by Adam & the Ants, back in late 1980 or early '81. For those who don't remember, they were a UK post-punk band who had a string of hit singles in the early 1980s. They had a really striking image and made cool videos which had a huge impact on me as an 8 year old. That said, I don't think I was influenced in any way by Adam & the Ants, although I recently re-visited their 3 albums and they still sound great and really distinctive. Less than a year after buying 'KOTWF' I heard 'New Life' by Depeche Mode and everything changed. That was the first record I bought that had a profound influence on me, and actually set me off on the path to where I am today.

What was the last record you bought?
I actually bought 3 records together; the soundtrack to the '80s horror film 'Re-Animator' by Richard Band, 'Circuitous' by Afrikan Sciences, and 'Margin Walker' by Fugazi. I'm really into '70s and '80s horror scores right now - I probably spend more time listening to them than I do any new music. 'Re-Animator' is very good indeed, because it steals from one of the best, owing a huge debt to Bernard Herrmann's 'Psycho' score. Afrikan Sciences is the work of US producer Eric Douglas Porter - its roots are in hip-hop, jazz and house, but rhythmically its quite experimental and pretty unique sounding. It's on the PAN label who have been releasing great music for a while now. And 'Margin Walker' because I realised it was the only Fugazi record I didn't have on vinyl.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Despite being a big cheese lover, I only tried Brie and Camembert for the first time last year.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
I'd actually choose an engineer; Don Zientara, Steve Albini or Bob Weston. Despite making folk music myself, I have very little time for contemporary folk music, largely because the sound of almost all modern folk albums is completely soulless and lifeless. Modern folk music has become too middle-of-the road and safe for my taste, and as a genre I find it really un-interesting on a sonic level. The raw, in-your-face sound of people like Zientara/Albini/Weston is, to my mind, exactly the right kind of sound for a folk record at this time. Obviously we'd love to actually go and make our new album at Electrical Audio in Chicago, but instead we'll be doing it all at my house as usual!

Who should we be listening to right now?
I can't think of anything *really* exciting that I've heard recently. The Viet Cong record is pretty good, and so far this year I've enjoyed the new releases by Sleater-Kinney, Moon Duo, Sam Prekop and John Carpenter. Apart from that, anything on Opal Tapes, PAN or Bed of Nails.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
Vinyl for serious listening, digital for convenience. I love my iPod - 30 years ago, if someone had shown me a device the size of a fag packet that could hold my entire record collection it would have completely blown my mind, and now it's a reality. I can remember going on long journeys when I was a teenager, weighed down by a Walkman, a bag of cassettes and a stack of spare batteries. Digital music is a truly fantastic innovation. The CD has become a bit worthless in my world. I'll buy them if it's the only available format, but I tend to just rip them and then immediately sell them or give them away. Vinyl with download codes is the way to go. I simply cannot understand the resurgence of the cassette - it was always an inferior sound carrier and it continues to be so. Totally pointless in this day and age.

Tell us about your latest release.
'Three Inverted Nines' is an EP we recorded for Halloween 2014. It was a limited edition release available for 1 week only, but we're now giving it a second pressing for those who missed out first time around. It contains covers of 4 songs written by Glenn Danzig which he originally performed with his bands Misfits, Samhain and Danzig. Obviously the songs fit the Halloween theme perfectly, but they're such great songs and they deserve to be heard by people who wouldn't normally buy a Danzig album. I'm a huge Glenn Danzig fan and this isn't the first time we've covered his songs. We actually played live as The Fiends a couple of times, performing only Misfits covers. The first time we did it was Halloween 2009 and that remains one of my favourite gigs I've ever played. Incidentally, the title of the EP comes from the lyrics of the Misfits song 'American Nightmare'.

What's next for you, musically?
Next up is the new full-length record from The Owl Service; it's called 'His Pride. No Spear. No Friend' and it's set for a summer 2015 release. At the start of 2012 I put The Owl Service on an indefinite hiatus, purely because I didn't know where to take the project next. I didn't want to make another record just for the sake of it, and felt that I needed some space to get ideas together. I actually started thinking about a new Owls album in late 2013 and was gearing up to start recording at that time, but it was delayed for various reasons and that's turned out to be a good thing. Having had a year-long thought process before recording a single note, we now know exactly where we're going with it. Thinking about it, we've actually come full-circle. When I first started planning a new record all I knew was that I wanted it to be stripped down, stark and simple. Far less 'produced-sounding' than 'The View From a Hill'. But then I went through a big kraut-rock phase around the same time the last Wolves in the Throne Room album came out, and so I started thinking we could have these big 'Kosmische' synth soundscapes fused with doom-metal. We'd have had fun trying that for sure, but I'm not entirely convinced it would have been successful! Then, by chance, I found myself re-visiting 'Pod' by The Breeders and it was like a big slap round the face. It reminded me of my original plan to make a stripped down, honest sounding album, and how far I'd drifted from that remit. The very next day I was given a copy of Fugazi's 'First Demo' album and it started to feel like someone was trying to tell me something. Since then I've been immersing myself in the post-hardcore, minimalist rock sound of engineers like Don Zientara, Steve Albini and Bob Weston, along with pivotal post-rock records like 'Spiderland' and 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die', and working on ways of incorporating that kind of sound into The Owl Service. As far as I know, this is the first time anybody has fused traditional British folk song with American post-rock and post-hardcore production - it's going to be interesting.

What's for dinner?
Pizza, with a bottle of Italian beer.


Cranium Pie "Mechanisms Part 2"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I can't escape the impression that anytime I'm listening to a Cranium Pie release I've gone slightly out of sync. This UK based progressive rock outfit are unusually adept at shifting perception, and coupling this with their overflowing barrel of ideas creates a singular listening experience.

The music on "Mechanisms Part 2" is often wildly experimental, giving the impression of something that's escaped from a secret government research facility. Anything else would be far too ordinary a catalyst for music this adventurous and odd. Which may make it sound like this would potentially be hard work to listen to, and it probably should be, but the band's restlessness and way with a tune ensure that it never actually is.

The preview CD that I received to review sees the double LP split into four, unnamed, side length tracks, and in that form "Mechanisms Part 2" is very successful; four suites of fragmentary fever dreams, hopping wildly from one idea to the next in an entertainingly unpredictable fashion. (Although I see that the band have chosen to split the tracks up into their constituent parts for digital release).

There's obviously a great love for the music of the very early progressive rock era evident here, but rather than try to create an album that sounds like it's from that time, Cranium Pie have elected to use the philosophy of the music of that era to create a new progressive statement that sounds surprisingly fresh, even as it brings to mind the likes of Soft Machine, Caravan, King Crimson and Matching Mole. The drums swing nicely, helping to enhance the free flowing nature of the band's music, and allowing the rest of the band to delve into areas derived from psychedelia, folk, jazz and beyond.

More often than not instrumental, the band's surfeit of ideas ensure that there is never a dull moment, and that no passages outstay their welcome - quite the opposite! Most bands would be content to stretch the ideas contained on any one of these sides over the length of a full album, but Cranium Pie seem to have worked out that the music of the early progressive era was so exciting because of its unpredictable and quickly evolving song structures. Adopting that same approach has paid serious dividends here.

Prog fans will be in Heaven, naturally, but those normally suspicious of the genre will find plenty of spacey lashings of psychedelia to keep them amused too.

Very highly recommended indeed.

Fruits de Mer are releasing the limited edition vinyl (which you can pre-order here), while the digital can be purchased / streamed through the link below. Released March 30.

Nine Questions with The Holy See

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

Today.... Simon Magus from The Holy See.

What was the first record you bought? 
First record I ever owned was Slade in Flame, which I got with a portable record player for my birthday. First record I ever nicked was Star Wars And Other Space Themes, from Blackburn Chemist's "Music For Pleasure" album rack when I was a skint wee urchin, and first record I ever bought was Special Brew by Bad Manners which I bought off my big brother's pal for two roll ups.

What was the last record you bought?
"Transmission From Sogmore's Garden" by Magic Bus, a spaced out psychedelic feast of sounds for your ears, your mind and your soul. The next last records I'll probably buy will be Corduroy's new album in March (yay! ) and Cranium Pie's new 4 album epic Mechanisms 2 (yay again!).

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
My real birth name.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
As a teenager I was convinced that sooner or later I'd be Siouxsie and the Banshees next ex-guitarist, learned to play guitar by playing along with their records and everything, so if they re-form I'll send them a tape. Steve Severin lives not far from here so I'll make sure it gets there and shout through his letterbox til he listens to it. For my own music I'd love Cyrus Faryar to do some voice like he did on The Zodiac's Cosmic Sounds album. He lives on a remote island off New Zealand, not far from you. Fancy giving him a shout???

Who should we be listening to right now?
Whoever makes your hips shake, your heart sing, or your head fed. Not Kanye West though, he's a cock.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
All of the above, and live music too. It's all well and good being a vinyl junkie, but I don't have that portable record player anymore, and it's hard going wheeling my hi-fi onto the train to listen to sounds when I'm out and about, so I keep all my sounds on an mp3 player and will just have to suffer the indignity if any people who listen to vinyl catch me. As long as the music is traveling from the musician's head into yours it's all good.

Tell us about your latest release.
It's the soundtrack to a TV show, a supernatural detective series from 1969 which was broadcast from another dimension. It has Harpsichords and Mellotrons and Hammond grooves and synthesizers and sitars and tape loops and radiophonic interludes and lots of echoes. Echoes are good fun, I like those.

What's next for you, musically?
The Holy See is my main thing, but I'm also recording and gigging with a couple of my friends bands, and long distance recording collaborations with musical friends all over the place. I've got my fingers in more pies than Jimmy Savile partying at the City Morgue, so am furiously trying to grow some extra fingers. But right now the Holy See have just been signed to Cineploit Records so will be working on some more soundtracks, and hopefully some more collaborations with other people, who knows???

What's for dinner?
Think I'll have another slice of that Cranium Pie, it's affy good. Why do I keep saying the word pie? I even heard somebody in a car calling me a pie this morning. "Oot ma road ya pie!" What's that all about?


23 Mar 2015

Jim Griffin "The Ranger & The Cleric"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Now here is something very curious indeed. A literal one man band, Jim Griffin’s 'The Ranger And The Cleric' takes an obvious love of progressive and conceptual rock and turns in what may well be one of the albums of the year. Inspired by the work of Albrecht Durer, H.P. Lovecraft, Gary Cygax, Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke and taking as its narrative a medieval story-cycle, this is an album that mines its own deep well of personal inspirational and ambition. Indeed, this is a visionary work that, although it nods and doffs its cap towards its musical influences, is still quite unlike anything else.

A concept album split into ten movements or segments, ‘The Ranger And The Cleric’ begins with 'Thoughts Combine' a spoken word intro hinting at forces both unknown and supernatural before an array of acoustic and treated guitars weave, wax and wane over each other in a veritable tapestry of sound. Double tracked electric guitar intertwines over finely wrung solos and an exquisite fingerpicking, recalling the Mike Oldfield of ‘Hergest Ridge’ or ‘Ommadawn’; it is that good. Merging into the title track, Griffin recounts the tale of both protagonists and the tale begins. At once melancholy, timeless and epic, there are heavy, unashamed hints of prog and subtle suggestions of folk but this album is also something quite unique with its own particular sound. Entirely the work of Griffin alone playing every instrument, this is an intricate but expansive piece of music; vocal harmonies, time signature changes and sound effects abound, easily suggesting the work of some 7 piece prog supergroup (imagine The Strawbs fronted by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson).

Jousting guitars herald the ominous 'The Visions of the Prophet', soaring and repeating over the hum of vintage synths. The sound is massive and recalls the ‘sturm und drang’ of Jeff Wayne's classic prog musical ‘War of the Worlds’ in its intensity. Next, the interplay between delicate, hushed tones and the wail of electric guitar maelstrom breaks into ‘In A Single Word They Were Bound To Begin And Never End’ which continues the Ranger’s tale, blistering guitar work seguing between verses. The piece is complex, widescreen and hugely innovative; echoes of Robert Fripp's virtuoso discordance, Peter Hamill's pointed harmonies and Steve Hackett's very English sense of melody are all hinted at as the song builds to a towering and mind melting crescendo. All goes quiet and the sound of a cassette being inserted and played on an old tape deck begins 'Gentle Deeds to Charity’, a recording of sombre arpeggios leading into an acoustic refrain of great beauty and hushed grandeur. 'Tellings' follows, its Floydian melodies utterly otherworldly; in fact the whole album acts as a conduit to another time, another land. Emotive, evocative and ever so slightly cosmic this is headphones on and lights out music. Bells chime and the guitar becomes more frantic, tense and unsettling until we once again hear the sound of a cassette being pressed to play and the tape recording returns.

Next, 'Retellings' pensive acoustics are underlined by layers of electric guitar wails and howls, curious side effects merging with hushed percussion before the song finally segues into subsequent track 'Ancient Memories From Beneath'. Emerging gently, this understated but ambitious piece builds and layers from quiet contemplation to full on psych attack, replaying the doom laden motif of the album before drums and flanged guitar lead back into the earlier delicate splendour. To end, the drums return along with deranged, fuzzed out guitar as multi tracks swirl and fade in a psychedelic storm of backwards tapes and sound effects. 'Into The future But Not Into The Past' begins with chatter and another spoken word piece (which may well be Carl Sagan?) before turning into a medieval sounding, gorgeous piece of acoustic reverie. The guitars sound not unlike harpsichords in their shimmering and glistening beauty as wind chimes gently add atmosphere and a quiet eeriness. Final track 'Vanishing Point' ups the tempo, intense acoustic strumming underlying an acid guitar freak out of quite epic proportions. It is a suitably dramatic and poignant end to what is clearly a labour of love for Griffin and what for us listeners is quite simply a hugely enjoyable, unpredictable and successful prog folk classic.

Released in a lovely handmade sleeve featuring a medieval print, this album is only available in limited quantities so do not miss out. Griffin has released an opus that stands shoulder to shoulder with Yes, Oldfield, Fripp et al. Dig out your wizard's hat and cloak, light a joss stick and close your eyes as you journey with the Ranger and the Cleric.

Available here on CD from Reverb Worship.

Stream or purchase digitally here: 

22 Mar 2015

Nine Questions with the Hanging Stars

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

Today...Richard from the Hanging Stars (& The See See).

What was the first record you bought?
Depeche Mode "101", influenced by my older cousin. I still think Depeche Mode was an amazing group. So was Frankie Goes To Hollywood for that matter.

What was the last record you bought?
Alberto Montero - Puerto Principe (2013) Such an underrated and ignored record. Jesus. He's like a Spanish Arthur Lee. The most stunning beautiful compositions and atmospheres he conjures up. I wish I had a clue what he was on about though

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Our band were all born with tails. True story. Also, Richard's dad was in a band with Bjorn from ABBA in the early 60s.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Tutankhamun's court composer. It would be amazing. But alas he is long gone. As are the pharaohs. Might be a good thing.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Thelightshines - Now The Sandman Sing.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
Vinyl for sitting. Mp3 for walking.

Tell us about your latest release.
We've got our debut 7" out on the Great Pop Supplement label on March 23rd. We sing folk songs updated to the now with some lysergy thrown in for good measure. It's a double A side called Golden Vanity/Floodbound.

What's next for you, musically?
Finish and release an album and play shows all across this blue green earth.

What's for dinner?
Vegetarian chili from a can. We're broke.


Monochromie - Brussel-Zuid EP

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Monochromie is French composer and pianist, Wilson Trouvé, This EP is only three tracks, but a new album called "Behind Black Clouds" is coming in April on Fluttery Records. In the meantime, listeners have these three lovely compositions to savor. Trouvé marries his songs with chiming bells and layers of gorgeous sound, floating down around your ears like gauze. Song #3, entitled "Brussel-Zuid Part 3", is my favorite of the three tracks. It enchants and entwines your senses, and makes you want to hear more. Track #2, "Brussel-Zuid Part 2", throws you slightly off kilter with hazy, almost discordant piano, and the opening track, "Brussel-Zuid Part 1" is widescreen ambience at its finest, evoking meadows with deep, dark forest hovering at the periphery.

Trouvé surrounds the listener with these engaging pieces, and his obvious talent shines through every nook and cranny of this criminally short release.

"Brussel Zuid" is available as a free download here:

18 Mar 2015

Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab "Beyond The Silver Sea"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Comprised primarily of the duo of  Joe Kane (formerly of the Owsley Sunshine, currently Macca from a really fab Beatles tribute band), and former BMX Bandit Stu Kidd, Dr Cosmos Tape Lab are obviously going to be a force to be reckoned  with in the poppy hooks department. Previous album "Ever Evolving Lounge" was a delightful affair, as you may recall from the evangelical zeal of this review. And now for EEL's followup (which they actually recorded first), we've got a full blown concept album.

"Beyond The Silver Sea" is "a sci-fi pop concept album set in an alternate not too distant future. It tells the story of a man experiencing a strange recurring vision in his dreams which is totally outside of his sphere of reference. The dream inspires him to think differently, change his physical appearance, and even place in space/time to find a better way of life and escape the confines of his current reality." says Joe. Beyond that, it's also a top drawer collection of classic pop tunes which successfully elbows it's way into the very small 'concept albums that aren't rubbish' club.

Adam Smith provides a running narrative between tracks to further the story's development, giving the Cosmo's the freedom to realize that even though they're recording a concept album, the songs can shine individually without needing to be expository pieces. As such, there's nothing on here that doesn't thrive when separated from its album-mates. It's all single-worthy.

Echoes of sixties mod-pop ala the Small Faces and baroque pop along the lines of the Zombies dominate. Perhaps surprisingly given Kane's role in Them Beatles, there's very little that is Beatlesque about "Beyond The Silver Sea". Having said that, I'm almost certain that they've stumbled upon a cache of undiscovered 1964 McCartney demos intended for Cilla Black, heard "Time Enough For Love", and decided "We'll have a bit of that." That aside though, this is far more Mod than Mersey. And it's not all sixties worship either; "Pie, Mash & Liquor" dabbles in "Ghost Town" style dub adeptly enough to ensure that the future of this band could lead almost anywhere, and that's all part of the fun.

Available very soon in a limited edition vinyl pressing from Sugarbush Records, as well as CD and digital.

Nine Questions with Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab

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

Today .... Joe Kane from Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab.

What was the first record you bought? 
Phil Spector- Echoes Of The Sixties, an excellent compilation of all the classic Phil Spector hits with a really cool cover featuring a close up an oscillator screen.

What was the last record you bought? 
The Osmonds 'Yo-Yo' 45.

What's one thing about you that very few people know? 
I got very nearly fatally electrocuted aged 17 while playing the riff to 'Tatva' by Kula Shaker in my bedroom. I was using an old Wem Dominator valve amp which I used to unplug by simply pulling on the wire. The live wire inside the plug came to touch the earth wire and made me part of the circuit for just over a minute. My mum saved my life with a dried off rubber hair washing at the sink hose type thing. Quick thinking mum! After a few months of surgery and recuperation I returned to guitar playing and smashed a Les Paul copy through the Wem amp live on stage.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
I'd like to record with Nic Denholm who now lives in LA. We used to be writing & recording partners in The Owsley Sunshine and whenever we can get together we always easily fall back into our old groove so hopefully we can continue that soon.

Who should we be listening to right now? 
Big Hogg from Glasgow have just made a fantastic psych-folk-jazz LP which is out very soon on Neon Tetra Records. Check it out! Also The Junipers have a new album in the works which is gonna be incredible. Heard a few roughs from that and they never fail to blow the collective-cosmo mind.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette? 
I'm a big fan of all four mediums. I use them all daily. Love records though, especially collecting 45's of great songs that I hear randomly. CD's are great because they're still very cost effective for distributing music on and creating a product of your musical art on the whole. Also good if you're lazy and don't want to get up and have to turn a side over. Tape is a wonderful thing and the one I grew up with the most so it always holds a certain magic. You can do cool things with a cassette that you can't do with anything else.

Tell us about your latest release. 
Our next album 'Beyond The Silver Sea' is a sci-fi pop concept album set in an alternate not too distant future. It tells the story of a man experiencing a strange recurring vision in his dreams which is totally outside of his sphere of reference. The dream inspires him to think differently, change his physical appearance and even place in space/time to find a better way of life and escape the confines of his current reality. There's a lot of metaphorical stuff going on and some hidden meanings in there if you take the time to listen and unlock it all but there's a lot of fun and silliness too. It's all underpinned by a fantastic narration from our collaborator Adam Smith who also does the art and is our live band third member so really he's the "third Cosmo".

What's next for you, musically?
We've pretty much completed our third album which is entitled 'Cosmic Tone' and is really the follow up to (first album but second recorded) 'Ever Evolving Lounge'. It's a step on from that album but continues in a similar vein while adding a slightly different more modular kinda song style and less cluttered sound. It's more proggy but still very poppy too I think. It features a 22 minute song suite about the spirit of a dead old guy who possesses a young boy via a pair of pyjamas bought from a charity (thrift) shop which we hope to turn in to a short film at some point. We also have a bunch of other stuff planned which we hope to start work on very soon including a new single called 'Second Generation Imitation' and an electronics-heavy sequel to 'Beyond The Silver Sea'.

What's for dinner? 
Tonight we're having our second full band rehearsal throughout what most "normal" people would call dinnertime. We're featuring Stu "Cosmic" Kidd on drums & vocals, Adam Smith on bass and performance art antics, Paul Kelly (The Martial Arts,How To Swim) on keys/synth, Simon Caveman on percussion and myself singing & playing electric guitar. A rather meaty dish I think you'll agree!


17 Mar 2015

Matricarians "After the Dancing"

Matricarians - After the Dancing 

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Matricarians (Alan Davison’s (Kitchen Cynics) more experimental and left field alter ego) have recently unveiled ‘After The Dancing’, an extensive, sometimes abstract but always heartfelt and genuinely moving recording. Arriving as a part of a trio of new Davison releases (alongside a new Kitchen Cynics and a more drone based outing as the Kitchen Cynics Drone Trio) ‘After The Dancing’ effortlessly creates a timeless and sepia hued trip through a not so distant past and is a constant source of surprise and wonder.

The title track opens the album, backwards tapes and haunted piano picking out a nostalgia tinged, hallucinatory waltz that recalls the work of Max Richter and, at times, British Sea Power’s epic ‘From The Sea To The Land Beyond’. 'Cheer Cheer Up' adds Davison's familiar Aberdonian burr to splendid effect over cascades of piano notes that unsettlingly ebb and flow in and out of tune whilst clarinet adds hazy warmth to the proceedings which are both achingly beautiful and drenched in a comforting melancholy. 'Yonder Star' opens with vintage synths oscillating behind woodwind to eerie effect; part Oliver Postgate, part Stockhausen. Chimes enter and a miniature symphony of wyrd and wonderful noises commences, an alternative theme to ‘The Clangers’ with a hint of The Wicker Man. 'Wall Flower' is a carefully layered and constructed piece composed from treated piano and organ which grows into something both sombre and majestic. ‘Improv - Snow Melts The Ericht's scratchy electric guitars and rushing wind suggests something wintery, cold and barren whilst 'Things The Waves Would Bring' sinister undercurrent ushers in a creeping unease not unlike some of John Foxx's more rustic and dystopian work. Davison's vocals reverberate amongst tales of mermaids and flotsam, fairy tale-like and lysergic. It’s hugely effective and quite unlike anything else you will ever hear. 'Happy Slippers' backwards effects and distortion combine in a curiously beautiful manner while 'Waterfall Piano's underwater sonics suggest a submerged chamber orchestra. 'Miss Polly Had A Dolly' sees analogue whirrs and clatter merge into the most exquisite acoustic nursery rhyme, xylophone adding an otherworldly air to one of the album’s standout tracks (and there are many). ‘Dance Crows Dance' unearthly swarm of voices and birdsong is a queasy and pleasingly disturbing jaunt through the cornfield, which is then followed by 'Waltz Of The Drunken Time Traveller', its tolling bells and synth squelches creating a playful, deranged nursery atmosphere that is only emphasised when the Edwardian style grand piano enters. There is coherence at work here; something nostalgic, skewed, twisted, only slightly haphazard and utterly charming that runs like a thread throughout the album itself. 'Down In Yon Meadow's toy piano and Casio tones paints an image of a nightmarish Ivor Cutler, the babble of analogue noise chattering underneath Davison's soft Scottish accent and descending harpsichord. 'Scottish In Seven Seconds' is a filmic, widescreen thing of beauty; xylophone cascades like a waterfall over piano notes drenched in reverb and delay. The sound of engine acceleration begins 'The Poisoned Balalaika', a sci-fi lullaby that takes an eastern tinge as said stringed instrument enters amongst deep space whistles and echoes. 'Piggy on the Hillside' is a chanted, drone led Syd Barret-esque wonder, whilst 'Edinburgh Train Conversation's snippets of dialogue and industrial hum intertwine with the sound of music boxes in a layered and ever building piece of subtle tension. 'Hiding in the Hedge' is an almost jaunty yet spectral romp, ghostly Victoriana echoing through empty corridors and hallways. There is something a tad 'through the looking glass' about this album, nothing is quite what it seems and everything is deliciously off beam. Finally, the album closes with a live version of 'Flies', a hushed and melancholic number which surges into a cacophony of fuzz guitar and whistling feedback that is truly exhilarating.

Davison’s genius for left of centre crafted folk and perfect pop is undoubted. What is now no longer in question is also his ability to spin a deft experimental and psychedelic web that is at once filled with beauty, longing, nostalgia and unease. This is one to listen to after the dancing, after the sun goes down and after the lights are out. Let the Matricarians fill the air with their songs of yesterday and strangeness.

You can order "After the Dancing" on CD-R by messaging Alan through the Matricarians Facebook page. And check out a sample track below:

Nine Questions with Biscuits for Bears

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

Today.... Richard Van Archer from Biscuits for Bears.

What was the first record you bought?
The first record I bought with my own money was 'Lil' Devil' by the Cult when I was eight years old. I bought it from Our Price in Huntingdon High Street with money I had received as a birthday gift. It had a great guitar line and sounded pretty mean. Plus it was quite a short song as well and seemed really to the point, in a way that other stuff at the time wasn't. Ian Astbury was a great singer, very Jim Morrison-y and Glenn Danzig-y but listening to it now, he was a lyricist of variable quality!!

What was the last record you bought?
Last record I bought was John Carpenter's 'Lost Themes', from Relevant Records on Mill Road in Cambridge. He is a great storyteller musically and a synth master. Sadly no guest appearance from Kurt Russell though!

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I don't like seafood. Particularly stuff with tentacles.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Really tough question, maybe Dusty Springfield.She had such an awesome dramatic voice and had proper quality control skills when it came to songwriting. If you made a record with Dusty only the very best stuff would make it out of the studio!

Who should we be listening to right now?
The Deadcuts 'Dark Is The Night' is the best album I've heard in recent times. It's got its roots in the psych-influenced pop music from the eighties - the Cure, Bunnymen etc - but sonically the Deadcuts have a lot more attack. Mark Keds' lyrics are the best he's ever written and read as beautifully on the page as they do when you're listening to them in the songs.

Vinyl, CD or digital?
Vinyl. It's no exaggeration to say that visiting a record shop to have a look around and buy a vinyl record felt like an event when I was younger, even though I did it practically every weekend! It still feels that way all these years later.

Tell us about your latest release.
Biscuits For Bears, have released a split cassette with a London-based garage rock band called Bare Hunter. We've combined the band names for the cassette title 'Bare Bears'. It's probably the most aggressive music we've released so far. We are garage rock but this set of songs moves towards something a bit heavier.

What's next for you, musically?
We will be writing and maybe recording (depending on our progress) a bunch of songs in May for an album to put out this year, tentatively titled 'Brute Pop'! Lots of gigs too.

What's for dinner?
Tonight, probably lamb shanks.


16 Mar 2015

NM and the No Man Band "The Stone Tape"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

"The Stone Tape" is an old favourite of mine, one of the very best made for TV horror tales of the seventies, with that particularly English sense of slow, deliberate dread conjured perfectly. So, when I stumbled upon this new E.P of the same title from N.M and the No Man Band on Bandcamp, my interest was well and truly piqued.

N.M is one Nick Morfitt, an analog recording junkie with, it would seem, impeccable tastes, and a singular sound which conjures a spooky vibe that shares a kinship with only a very select few.

"The Stone Tape" is (suitably enough) a grainy, lofi affair, with a mysterious, sinister quality. Imagine a cross between Comus, and Sixteen Horsepower at their most arcane and you're getting close. To use a more tried and true descriptor, there's a bit of a "Wicker Man" sort of vibe to proceedings, albeit laced with heavy doses of psychedelic drone that help enforce the creeping sense of unease.

Taking lessons learned from the first generation of freak folk outsiders, and adding layers of lo-fi radiophonic synthesizers, and washes of disorientating psychedelia is itself a winning enough formula to make this a must listen, but Morfitt's songs are unusually strong for an artist with such a deliberately curated sound. Opener "Pineline" is probably the strongest, but the entire first side (or equivalent thereof) is surprisingly carefully composed, with memorable hooks that are slightly off centre, but easy to digest. Which just leaves "Backwoods Narcolepsy", a twenty minute epic which dissolves into an unsettling fever dream of unpredictable, foggy drones.

Pretty exceptional, and available here as a free/name your own price download, or cassette.

Nine Questions with NM and the No Man Band

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

Today.....Nick Morfitt from NM & The No Man Band. 

What was the first record you bought?
Uncle Jam Wants You - Funkadelic. My local shop was selling them off cheap and I think I bought three copies in quick succession, all of which I defaced with crayon and jelly. Guess I wasn't up to feeling the funk. The Groundhogs Split is the first "rock" record I bought. Tony McPhee's processed guitar blues shronk and cheap Patchouli oil was a heady mix to my young self.

What was the last record you bought?
Electronic Music Vol 4 on Turnabout Records. Also Cheesy Nirvosa's soundpieces/Ambient Geek Sleep Aids needs a mention.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
I have three nipples. I also may be a re-incarnated soldier from WW2 but that's a long story I can't remember. Go ask my mum.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Good, tough question this. Syd Barrett sprang to mind. Less because of the myth and more because he was a very instinctual musician. I'd have to say early 70's era Tangerine Dream. There's something about an ego-less exploration of deep space via analogue electronics that's much more appealing and imaginative than the usual band dynamic.

Who should we be listening to right now?
Earth Dream by Komodo Haunts on Bandcamp/Harmonic Articulation. I've been addicted to the opening track Mountain Demon(Descent) since that came out. Tuluum Shimmering's take on Dark Star is also worth a mention. For a jam that has seemingly been exhausted of any new musical approaches(by the Dead themselves),this takes it off in an altogether new direction entirely and after 90 minutes, you're craving 90 more. Any Sloow Tapes release! Plus an early blues/jazz cut a day keeps the demons away.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
I would have said vinyl but I think it's becoming too saturated with dodgy deluxe pressings, overpricing on second hand stuff, not enough care and attention paid to the quality. So I'm going CASSETTE! I'm shocked/amazed at how much good stuff is leaking out on tape at the moment,it's a real eye opener. It'll never threaten the digital mass market but that's so not the point. It's really offering a good, analogue warm, affordable platform to musicians to get thier music out and slowly but surely, is bringing back a bit of grassroots heart back to the music "industry". Plus I record on cassette so anything else would have been dishonest.

Tell us about your latest release.
The Stone Tape is my first release as NM and the No Man Band and a good summation/encapsulation of my home-recorded Pysch Folk explorations of the last five years. Recorded at home on Tascam Analogue four-track using technology of varying merit over about 4 months. Used my balcony for percussion. As much as I appreciate good production, I always go for a "field recording"/off-hand sound. If it feels right I just run with it. I'm kind of aware that my music sounds like it was beamed in from another decade but it's accident more than design.I've got so many PG era Genesis/Floyd/Yes albums stamped onto my subconscious (thanks to my cool, late Dad) that when I turn the songwriting tap on that stuff can't help but flood out somehow. And outsider songsters like Skip Spence, Bobb Trimble and Kenneth Higney appeal more to my sensibilities than the usual singer songwriter touchstones. I like noise in the cracks. Digital recording kills my soul a little each time and I'm so used to working with analogue that it's become part of the process. I also have to thank the wonderful scenery of Hergest Ridge for providing the nature and cohesion for this first proper effort of presenting myself to the world. Oh and if you ever visit Scunthorpe, then Side 2 Backwoods Narcolepsy is my sonic evocation of local fishing hole Silica Sands - my Strawberry Fields.

What's next for you, musically?
A joint E.P with my good friend The Wilderness Recordings is in talks. Looks like that may feature my more song based stuff. A second NM and the No Man Band EP/LP all hoping. All I can tell you is that it's probably gonna be less woodsy, more cosmic/anarchic/bluesy but still with the emphasis on tip-top songwriting and acoustic textures. I have to fight my inner temptation to make my own Ummagumma, but you have been warned!

What's for dinner?
One Apple Pie...AND NO CRUST!


Ten Mouth Electron "Brite Lites/Cut Up Technique"

Review by Joseph Murphy.

Though still early in 2015, Manchester, UK’s Ten Mouth Electron has been on the move. In January, theQuietus included a genre-blending new song, "Lux Mundi", on their "Minor Characters" compilation, and, in February, The Skinny showcased TME’s entertaining debut music video for "Young Nuns".  Part of Liverpool International Music Festival last year, the five piece seems to be getting well-deserved attention for their abilities to revitalize shoegaze, psychedelic, rockabilly, Krautrock, and noise-punk aesthetics and blend them seamlessly. I’m sure more than one person has been tempted to invent a portmanteau for their genre, and, listening to songs like "Cut Up Technique" – or, from an earlier EP, "Happy Birthday (Bang! Bang!)" – the temptation is understandable. Even within a single song, TME can sound like a gothic surf troupe or a pedal-gazing interstellar mission. With more new music on its way, TME’s last release from August of 2014 is a perfect handshake with their work with the implicit promise so far met this year.

Opener "Brite Lites" is a strong, reverb-and-delay-laden track with a few notable idiosyncrasies. First of all, the vocals are doubled; the harmony is low, almost whispered, and eerily robotic at times, while, at the forefront, the vocals are delivered with a swagger reminiscent of Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays) or Frank Tovey (Fad Gadget). Secondly, unlike many comparable dream pop or shoegaze tracks, "Brite Lites" focuses on the composition of the song rather than the trailing of vocals and instruments. At its heart, it’s a well-arranged and plotted pop song. The effects and layers act only as a vehicle rather than its end.

"Cut Up Techniques" lays the groundwork with a steady, walking bass line and tight rhythm that allows a bit of freedom in the collage of guitar layers that come and go throughout the song. It’s an atmospheric take on post-punk – mostly; then, with skill, the song shifts naturally into a sort of surf rock/punk anthem – and back again. It’s a great example of TME’s genre-blending potential.

That leaves the two latest installments then: "Young Nuns" and "Lux Mundi". Both are whole new animals. It’s clear though that TME has mastered their sound, as both tracks play to their skills. "Lux Mundi" begins with a feedback-drenched riff pounding that recalls early ‘90s alternative/noise (in the best way) and switches to an upbeat, bouncing verse with smooth baritone vocals – and, of course, seamlessly back again to a slow, space rock passage. And then back again still. This track, as reported above, appeared as part of theQuietus’ compilation celebrating minor characters in literature. This reviewer is happy to say that – with the help of the chorus: “…I was a bicycle...” – guessed it must be a reference to Irish novel The Third Policeman’s de Selby and, with some searching, confirmed it. Knowing this – for those familiar with the novel – makes the song an even greater success. The comic elements and announcement-like vocals all recall the darkly satirical mood of Flann O’Brien’s work. Likewise, "Young Nuns" (musically and visually) is a worthwhile listen and viewing. Next to "Lux Mundi", this song marks TME for continually interesting work in the years to come.

"Brite Lites/Cut Up Techniques" – as well as their "Happy Birthday" EP – is available on their Bandcamp at a pay what you will price. Look out for more from Ten Mouth Electron.

Nine Questions with E.L Heath

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

Today....E.L Heath (as heard on this month's sampler).

What was the first record you bought?
Probably something dreadful, I distinctly remember visiting a local radio station as a kid and looking in a box of old 7" they were going to throw out and were giving away free. I'd just seen the film Summer Holiday, and like most children my age I had been swept up by the all consuming desire to have my very own converted London Routemaster bus to travel around in, having all sorts of adventures. So I picked up a Cliff Richard single, which if anyone had any sense, was chucked out years ago. If we are talking about the first CD I bought, then it is possibly even worse - the seminal "Party Party" album by Black Lace. That they managed to include a medley of "Sailing" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" tells you everything you need to know about it. The Birdie Song even gets a workout, a synthesised "re-imagining" on track 4.

What was the last record you bought?
Junkboy's sublime 'Sovereign Sky', those brothers Hanscomb are channeling some beautiful melodies these days. It's a beautiful thing, both inside and out. (we agree - see here)

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
For the past 11 years of my life I've co-run a group for people with Asperger's Syndrome called Autonomy. As a teenager I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, my partner Victoria also has a similar diagnosis. I've worked in the field of autism since my early '20s and am now a Self Advocate with the Autism Programme Board at the Department of Health in Whitehall, which influences national autism policy. It is frustrating that the majority written on the subject of Asperger's Syndrome and autism in particular is negative, talking about people "suffering" from the condition. Autism is a difference, which makes things difficult sometimes, especially when dealing with a world which is as irrational as ours. My partner is a fine artist, I write, record and release music, the intensity and narrow focus which are strong traits in people with autism are rather a benefit in what we do.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Joe Meek created some of the most incredible sounds put to tape, but he would have been rather tricky to work with by all accounts! So, in my childhood Captain Scarlet-addled mind I'll say Barry Gray. His work for that series is astounding, gets me every time. As a kid I would always wonder what those swoops and trills were, a sound which haunted me until my '20s when I found out what had been creating them - the Ones Martenot. I've been obsessed with this instrument ever since, I own a control voltage keyboard controller called a French Connection, built to mimic the unique style of play. Barry Gray ended up studying the instrument with its creator Maurice Martenot in Paris. How I'd like to have been involved in those sessions!

Who should we be listening to right now?
There's so much music going around these days that it often leaves me overawed. That said, there are some amazing releases out there, here are a few I've managed to pick up: Lukas Cresswell-Rost's 'Go Dream', Gaze is Ghost's stunning 'Revolvere', Magpie Billy & The Egg that Yolked​ (​A Study of the Northern Ape in Love) by The Eccentronic Research Council ft. Maxine Peake, Your Roots, Your Bones by the ever poignant Les Étoiles and two releases by good friends; 'English Summer' by Seamajesty and 'The Visitation' by My Autumn Empire (aka Ben Holton from epic45).

Vinyl, CD or digital?
Vinyl. There's a lot written about the sound, but for me it is the large sleeve, the artwork in full glory. I used to find it hard to listen to albums as a whole, skipping tracks here and there, but when you put on a record, you put it on, you leave it on and then you turn it over when it gets to the end of a side. Sometimes it is simple things like those, the limitations, which make the whole act of listening to an album all the more enjoyable.

Tell us about your latest release.
Tŷ, my psychedelic Cymraeg pop album. I decided, for my first purely song-based album, to learn Welsh and write and sing all the songs in it, which was challenging to say the least! I was still learning as I recorded the album at home, nose deep in local mythology (I live on the Powys/Shropshire border). It was a really odd time, the local electricity board were threatening to build pylons over my house and politically there was a lot of unrest, riots, people being sanctioned off benefits, it was quite hateful, so the album has an element of escapism to it. I was listening to a ton of obscure Welsh psychedelic and acid folk at the time along with plenty of Joe Meek, the Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC's psychedelic alter egos), Kevin Ayers and Ivor Cutler, the humour of the latter three left a mark on me especially, colouring my disinterest with the media at large with whimsical humour, very much along the lines of the solo work of Armando Iannucci. Tŷ was released 28th October 2013 on Staffordshire's Wayside and Woodland Recordings, gaining 'Album of the Week' from both BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Ulster/BBC Radio Foyle along with radio play from Huw Stevens, Georgia Ruth Williams, and Simon Raymonde (Coctea Twins/Bella Union).

What's next for you, musically?
I took the majority of 2014 off after writing Tŷ, to get away from recording and get out and explore before playing a gig in my local town of Shrewsbury later that year. I'm now deep into re-working a number of songs I wrote before and during recording Tŷ which I'll be putting out sometime, somehow, as an E.P. called 'Smiling Leaf'. These are mainly more folky and rurally psychedelic than my more pop-minded album, so it will be good fun getting them out there. I'm now at the stage where I'm getting other musicians to flesh out the recordings and hopefully I'll soon start getting some plans for videos made. I also run my own label, Plenty Wenlock, with my partner, so we'll be putting out a number of releases through the year. I'm playing a few more gigs over the coming months too, so it's going to be busy!

What's for dinner?
I'm vegetarian, so nothing with meat. I really enjoy my cooking, lately I've been learning about Indian street food, especially the many different dishes which together form the Mumbai Aloo Chaat. I'm not one to stick to the recipe but currently I'm cooking up Korean Bibimbap and trying to suss out how best to make a decent Tajine.


15 Mar 2015

The Ty Segall Band "Live In San Francisco"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

When I first moved to Los Angeles and began frequenting local record shops and venues, everyone was talking about Ty Segall, and now, a few years later, even more people are talking. Most Southern Californian listeners (and further and further all the time) know, at least, his name or have, sometimes unwittingly, one of his many projects or bandmates’ projects (like Ty Segall Band, Fuzz, Mikal Cronin, Meatbodies, and on and on) on heavy rotation. Living in Los Angeles, eventually, you end up at one of his shows. My most memorable: Ty Segall Band and opener Wand (whose new album was recently reviewed here) leveled the packed Permanent Records shop – along with the sidewalk immediately around it. "Live in San Francisco" manages to wrangle the searing fuzz and kinetic energy of Segall’s heavy punk-infused garage rock live show, complete with stage banter and brief crowd-sourced stand-up.

For an artist whose many albums have a live-recording quality to them already – rife with improvisation that is perfectly flawed, especially 2012’s "Slaughterhouse" – the prospect of a Ty Segall Band live album is interesting in that it provides much more than a chance to hear favorites “live”; rather, it’s a chance to feel the freewheeling brink-of-chaos style shows and realize Segall’s songs are living things that change without falling short of the “album version” and often improving them, if only because they are so soaked in enthusiastic freak-outs. While not their first live record release (see 2011’s "Live in Aisle Five"), this is certainly the most polished. It was recorded over two nights in San Francisco’s intimate venue Rickshaw Stop.

A lot of the set comes from TSB’s "Slaughterhouse", which makes sense. "Slaughterhouse", unlike many of Segall’s albums, was recorded by a full band and not single-handedly. Once again, the powerhouse personnel return for this outing: Emily Rose Epstein, Charles Moothart, and Mikal Cronin. These tracks are some of Segall’s loudest and most raucous. They embody a wild and mad garage revival and act as a touchstone for the entire Bay Area/LA psych scene. College radio favorite "Wave Goodbye" opens with an excited Segall calling to the crowd. For the next ten songs, that energy doesn’t let up.

Castle Face Records’ "Live in San Francisco" series is a fine representation of the scene. Other installments include Fuzz, White Fence, Destruction Unit, OBN III, and Icky Boyfriends. Each of these have created a modern standard for, and done its part in revitalizing, valuable live recordings. Like them, Ty Segall Band’s turn is crisp, gritty and perfectly captured. For returning listeners, for new-comers, this album is essential garage rock.

Available here on vinyl, and here on CD.