30 Apr 2015

The Dream "Get Dreamy"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Before Terje Rypdal found acclaim with a string of accomplished jazz albums for ECM in the early seventies, he was in this short lived Norwegian band. Formed at a travelling Stax Revue show, the members of the Dream had all spent time in other popular Norwegian soul and pop acts, but it was the sounds coming from England, notably Hendrix, the Cream, and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers which informed Rypdal and company, with "Get Dreamy" generally regarded as Norway's first psychedelic album.

And psychedelic it certainly is, with Rypdal obviously relishing the opportunity to explore lengthier guitar sections, with some surprisingly exploratory freakouts. The rest of the band know their stuff too, whether it be heavy psych ala "Ain't No Use", white boy blues like "I'm Counting On You" or jazzier material like "Night of the Lonely Organist & His Mysterious Pals", which brings to mind some of the more swinging moments from "Axis: Bold As Love", without suffering too much for being in its considerable shadow.

The songs aren't always quite as memorable as the playing, but they're not the primary focus here, and there are very few moments when the band interplay is anything less than superb. Rydpal sent a copy of the original LP to Hendrix, so that Jimi would hear the track "Hey Jimi", written in tribute to him. Hendrix's copy turned up at auction with a number of other records from his London flat, and was apparently very well played. That in itself should act as the highest possible recommendation of the quality of the ensemble playing here.

RPM's new reissue has one bonus track, the final studio recording from the band. Recorded during its death throes, it eventually saw release on Rydpal's first solo album. It's an infectious Jimmy Smith inspired organ vamp, layered with appealing psychedelic flute chaos. A fitting closer which makes the fact that the Dream couldn't hold it together just a little longer even sadder.

Available here.

29 Apr 2015

The Owl Service & Alison O'Donnell "The Fabric of Folk" Redux

Reviewed by Hills Snyder

"The Fabric of Folk" by The Owl Service, originally released on clear vinyl and CD in 2008, is now offered on bandcamp in a redux edition, remixed and remastered with some parts re-recorded. The fabric referred to is corduroy, a material no longer the Cloth of The King (corde du roi), but associated since the 19th Century with artists, buskers and workers. Perhaps it was Dick Turpin, England’s most famous highwayman that inadvertently started the garment on it’s way to freedom from the aristocracy — he is said to have worn it for his execution in 1739 in an attempt to go out in style. The idea for the name of the EP came about inadvertently also — Owl Service folk lore credits singer Nancy Wallace, from a comment she made about the garb of Steven Collins and Rob Spriggs who both appeared at a Memory Band rehearsal wearing brown corduroy. All this is neatly woven up in that Ms. Wallace is also the singer on another Owl Service recording, that of the nineteenth century broadside ballad "Turpin Hero", which appears on their album "A Garland of Song".

"The Fabric of Folk" begins with the song "Wooden Coat", a spooky poem by Alison O’Donnell which revels in the inevitability of aging and death, hence the coffin referenced in the title. First heard are two melancholy guitar chords, likely A minor and C minor, that call to mind ‪György Ligeti’s "Musica Ricercata II‬" as used in Kubrick’s "Eyes Wide Shut". These sounds signal that something unsettling is offered and when O’Donnell’s other-worldly vocals and Charlie Skelton’s Uilleann pipes kick in, it sounds like an invitation to something secret and nocturnal. This sense of mysterious ritual is reinforced later in the song, “follow, follow,” but these feelings are normalized (as death should be in a sane culture) when the lyrics make it clear that no Faustian pact to gain immortality is going down. Rather, unencumbered slumber is welcomed by the singer, “trapped in a fading being.” There is more space in the remix too, as some tambourine/rattle sounds have been removed. Death is ultimately accepted, even welcomed “I am ready to walk the wire / Feel the shining of my desire.” Shining desire — surely an embrace, the loss of illusion, its own transformation. The song ends rooted firmly in the long history of song with you, the listener, kneeling “at the gnarled tree.” As an interesting and possibly revealing interpretive aside, try listening to "The Wooden Coat" immediately after viewing the Alex Garland film, "Ex Machina", and imagine it sung by Ava.

A rousing version of the traditional "William and Earl Richard’s Daughter" follows, telling the story of Robin Hood’s birth in the good, green wood. Spirited vocals carry the story to the moment when Earl Richard wakes inquiring of his merry men where his daughter has gone. The answer is given first on the strings of a fiddle, then overlapped by a Page-era Yardbirds-sounding guitar solo. By songs end we know that the Earl’s love of his daughter and grandson prevent him from hanging William as formerly warned. Maybe it’s left up to the next generation of “merry men” to follow Robin from the Earl’s lofty hall back to the DIY wood.

Track three is another traditional song, the blood soaked "Flodden Field", which follows a template set by British electric folk of the sixties and seventies in that it delivers its dismal war story with an up-tempo, rather cheerful melody, perhaps as some sort of curative. The Us vs.Them lyrics are brought to the communal table by sheer force of harmony, as the final verdict is in tune with so many other songs of this type, that war is vanity — and all war is implicated, not just the particular bit of history laid out in its lines. As in a well known anti-war song from the seventies and eighties, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", the protagonist won’t be returning home to dance.

Collins’ sweet hello to Sandy Denny, "Scarlett Threads & Silver Needles", completely re-recorded here with different instrumentation, follows as a nice weft/segue from the Child ballads to the final track, "The Fabric of Life". With lyrics by Dom Cooper, this song neatly provides a coda, weaving together various themes hinted at variously throughout the EP. Twin vocals intertwine, making actual the braid. The blood spilled in the Northumberland furrows now serves the harvest and threads of connection criss-cross through all these songs making for an intriguing listen you’ll want to revisit often.

Available here:

Pretty Lightning "A Magic Lane of Light and Rain"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy.

Cardinal Fuzz and Sound Effect Records unearth Pretty Lightning’s A Magic Lane of Light and Rain early this May. The German duo from Saarbrücken – Christian Berghoff and Sebastian Haas – are following up their auspicious 2012 debut, There are Witches in the Woods (Fonal Records). Pretty Lightning plays a brand of heavy and psychedelic delta blues, one drenched by humidity and caked in dust. The duo’s music sweats like it has spent months incubating in the bayou. Like its predecessor, A Magic Lane of Light and Rains follows the same sure fire formula that worked so well: far out vocals over a thumping and rolling bit of thundering rhythms and blues riffs honored, dismantled and set aflame.

Standout track Good Old Liar slumps through a laid back and extended intro of tumbling drums and resonating chords before tightening into a layered and masterful close. Like so many other songs on the release, Good Old Liar begins as one thing and seamlessly finds its way to another. Likewise, after a number of listens, I’ve found I digest Pretty Lightning’s songs differently each time; that’s not to say the music changes with each listen, but the rhythms are a bit hypnotic and perfectly dense so that any listener might focus on one thing and then another with any given spin.

The Rainbow Machine begins with a single wavering note. From there, chant-like vocals follow a gritty lead. The song’s bridge sounds pumped from a haunted music box. The Rainbow Machine demonstrates Pretty Lightning’s tried and true methods: the songs are straightforward but sonically perfected (without a studio’s sheen), marrying the dizzying effects of psych with the salt of the earth delta blues style the duo most obviously admire. Similarly, album closer, Graveyard Howls, embodies grit and grime in their guitar’s lugubrious slides. Reaching eight minutes, Graveyard Howls is a highlight. The groove of this one is infectious.

Pretty Lightning’s music has a touch of a humid twang to it – when the heat makes it almost unbearable even to speak clearly – and a bounce one (at least to this listener) can’t help associating with dusty saddles. It’s mesmerizing. Tune in. Pretty Lightning is playing the Eindhoven Psych Lab in June; catch them there. A Magic Lane of Light and Rain is available for pre-order from the Cardinal Fuzz online store in various vinyl designs or CD.


28 Apr 2015

Wesley Fuller "Change Your Mind" / "Melvista"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Young Melbournite Wesley Fuller certainly looks the part - all Cream-era Clapton curls, and billowing paisley shirts - and this handy little E.P suggests that he's done his homework musically too.

I'm not 100% sure whether the CD-E.P which arrived in the post for me to review is available to buy, or just for promotional purposes (I'm sure any prospective buyers could enquire here to find out), but it's certainly an appealing package. And for those who's needs aren't as physical, you can download both tracks through the Bandcamp links below on a name your own price basis.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, although not much convincing is going to be required of you, I'm sure. Fuller obviously has some neo-psychedelic tendencies - that much is apparent from his carefully cultivated image. What is more surprising is how much of a glam stomp these tracks both employ, and how well it helps accentuate the jangling guitars and big psych-pop harmonies.

"Melvista" is the pick of the two for me with lovely, jangling guitar arpeggios, carefully stacked harmony vocals on an irresistible power-pop chorus, and an infectious, percussive thump that adds up to a ridiculously catchy piece of ear-candy.

Very fine indeed, and very well crafted for a home studio recording.

Nine Questions with The Hare & The Moon

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

Today.... Grey Malkin from the Hare & The Moon.

What was the first record you bought?
It was either '90125' by Yes or 'The Collection' by Ultravox, both on cassette. My predilection for terrible prog and over serious dramatics obviously started at a young age. I love Ultravox, there's nothing wrong with wearing flying goggles and a kilt. In hindsight '90125' is awful, what was it about the 80's that so many established bands got it so wrong? Out with the dragons and in with the suit jackets with rolled up sleeves! Dreadful.

What was the last record you bought?
I splurge all the time but it tends to be older albums rather than new releases. The last one was Sunn O)))'s 'Void' with the bonus Nurse With Wound remix disc. My neighbours love me for that. What else? Coil's 'Megalithomania' bootleg, Sarada Holt's 'The Ghost Of Dorothy', Baby Dee's 'A Book Of Songs For Anne Marie'and Le Mystere De Voix Bulgares first album are all sitting waiting their turn at the phonograph in The Hare And The Moon's HQ.

What's the one thing about you that very few people know?
Probably my deep and abiding love for terrible movies. I'll quite happily sit through any amount of viewings of 'Highlander'or 'Independence Day'. I recently discovered 'Olympus Has Fallen'. What a load of brilliant tripe that is. I don't watch these ironically, I get very caught up in them and can watch them endlessly. That's not very cool is it? I probably should have mentioned my cloven hooves.

If you could record with one artist who would it be and why?
Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound). In terms of mood, a vast landscape of found sound and being truly disturbing I think he's got the lot and is a huge inspiration. I really dig his look with the top hat too. I'm going to cheat and mention a few others; Edward Ka-Spel (of The Legendary Pink Dots), Syd Barrett (the chances of this are limited I know) and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath).

Who should we be listening to right now?
Well there's this bunch called The Hare And The Moon who have a new record out...there are lots of fab records that are properly underground and truly inventive out at the moment; Sarada Holt's new album (haunted psych), Tim Moth Eye's (of Stone Breath) forthcoming 'Grave Needs' (and not just because I pop up on it), Jim Griffin's 'The Cleric And The Ranger' (genius one man prog folk), anything by The Holy See (spooky lost soundtracks of the highest order), So There (demented, psychedelic experimentalism), the new Dark Sinfonia album 'Plague Tales' (dark, gothic drama), Klaus Morlock's 'The Child Garden' (vintage electronica meets The Wicker Man) and anything by Richard Skelton. There you go, a shopping list!

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
All apart from digital which I really don't like at all. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I do like to hold a record in my hands and look at the sleeve, the inlay, the artwork...those crazy kids and their MP3s, what on earth do they use to roll their cigarettes on? Plus they never get to experience wearing triple gatefold sleeves as wizard hats. I can personally recommend 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' as being the best for that.

Tell us about your latest release.
The Hare and The Moon's new opus 'Wood Witch' is now out and wandering the forests. If you were super quick you might have picked up the 2CD version with a splendid remix disc by Melmoth The Wanderer but fear not if you didn't as there is a standard edition available. It's very long (in ye olden days it would have been a double album) and has lots of new songs about ghosts, murder and cornfields (what else is there?) We make a tremendous racket and there are some beautifully eerie and gentle moments from our singer too. Spook folk, haunted prog and dastardly drones.

What's next for you musically?
I am currently recording an album with the French folk band Sourdeline who are amongst my all time favourite acts so this is a dream come true. I also have something in the works with Dark Sinfonia's William Westwater, a collection of Scottish myths and folk legends put to music. There may also be something on the horizon with Michael Warren and I'm going to pop up on various albums by other artists throughout the year, probably creating a terrible noise. There will also be a new The Floating World album , Amanda Votta's project, which we are also working on as we speak.

What's for dinner?
Tofu hot dog sausages or these tofu 'pizza slice' things I found when out shopping yesterday. I'm slightly cautious about them which feels like the best approach, given what they look like.

'Wood Witch' is now available at www.reverbworship.com

27 Apr 2015

Sarada Holt "Dorothy's Ghost"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Perhaps best known for her long time association and exquisite vocal work with Pennsylvania's Stone Breath, Sarada Holt should be considered one of the foremost singers in the current psych folk scene. Here, the ever splendid Reverb Worship label has uncovered some hidden treasure indeed, a collection of 4 track recordings that Sarada completed between 1998 and 1999. For historical value alone these are absolutely essential but they are also on their own terms a series of gentle, graceful gems and twisted acid folk wonders that deserve to be widely heard and deeply appreciated.

The recordings by their very nature are lo-fi (and were recorded in Sarada's living room)but this only adds to their charm and the sense of discovering a long lost privately pressed psych classic, perhaps on the 'Sunbeam' or 'Kissing Spell' labels. 'Recurring Dreams' begins with some delicate Nick Drake style fingerpicking before Sarada's familiar voice lullabyes through a haze of echo and lysergic dream landscapes. Eerie certainly but also reassuring, Sarada's voice has a quality that can be at once betwitching and yet also unearthly and unsettling. For fans of Stone Breath's 'The Silver Skein Unwound ' or 'Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis' this is a must. 'Stars In My Sky' is an acoustic incantation, utterly entrancing and with a delicate power all of its own with Sarada's vocals layered and reverbed to haunting effect. 'Phantasmagoria In Two' is an album highlight, a ghostly lament over simple yet effective picked guitar, Sarada's vocals both spectral and melancholy. It must be noted that everything on this album is a solo effort, Sarada playing both acoustic and electric guitars as well as banjo, hand drums and sound effects. This is one person's unique vision and the album's highly intimate feel draws the listener closer still; it is not unlike being in the same room as the singer herself. 'To The Eels' is a flanged, psychedelic piece of acid drenched folk that would not be out of place on the soundtrack of Jonathan Miller's 'Alice In Wonderland', the refrain of 'Let's take them to the river and sacrifice them to the eels' creating a disturbing and surreal finale. A cover of Nick Drake's 'At The Chime Of A City Clock' is a thing of beauty indeed, sadness and smoky autumn days almost seeping through the song. Next, 'The Snow Maiden's banjo and hand drum creates a ritualistic air, the sense of rural horror evident in the dark fairy-tale lyrics and Sarada's dramatic performance. This is proper folk, black as night, foreboding and cautionary. 'Night Terrors' electric guitars reverberate and scream through the gloom, pulsating electronics creating a disorientating but welcoming backdrop that reminds this listener of The Legendary Pink Dots at their finest. Finally, 'The Pumpkin Effigy' is a spooked folk nursery rhyme with a definite hint of Stone Breath, Sarada's witch vocals filled with dread and tension. It is a fitting and emotive end to this most special and spooked album.

Make no mistake, this is is a home recording so do not look for glossy studio quality sheen here; in fact it would not fit and suit these quiet, cobwebbed songs nearly as well as the existing delicate mist that only adds to the wraith like air around this recording. This album will leave you spellbound and captivated, let 'Dorothy's Ghost' haunt you.

Available here in limited quantities with a beautiful haunted painting by Sarada herself gracing the cover. 

26 Apr 2015

Dynammo "1980"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

As far as I can see, this looks like the first English language review for this E.P from Argentina's Dynammo, which is kind of surprising for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's been out since October last year, so there's been plenty of time for someone to discover it. And secondly, its quality is immediately apparent. So this seems to have fallen into some sort of black hole, but I'll do my best to retrieve it for you because it is quite, quite lovely.

"1980" it may be titled, but this debut E.P absolutely screams 1990, from the layers of reverb laden jangle, to the hazy dream pop vocals, to the slightly thin sound of the production which affectionately references the U.K indie guitar scene of that year with a careful, well observed eye (or ear).

Its four tracks certainly leave you wanting more, with enough variety on show to imply that a full length would certainly not outstay its welcome.

Whether we're looking at the Motorik / Wire rhythmic mashup of "Veloz" or the dreamy washes and billowing guitars of "Hologrammas", the lovely femme vocals are given ample support, casting a captivating spell which makes this listener very keen to hear more.

Available through the band's Bandcamp page here:

25 Apr 2015

MYRESKÆR "Umiddelbart Banalt"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Copenhagen’s MYRESKÆR was formed by Myre Knudsen (of the punk outfit DE HØJE HÆLE) in 2013 and recently debuted "Umiddelbart Banalt" via Octopus Pi Records. Collecting over 40 minutes of alternately raucous garage rock and sweeping folk, "Umiddelbart Banalt" – meaning immediately banal or trite – is a compelling addition to the swell of psych revival bands. However, unlike many of the band’s peers, MYRESKÆR’s brand feels all at once complex, humble, and personal, where other acts fall into the trap of the quick and fun song. Beginning as a solo project, MYRESKÆR relies instead upon the quality of the songs. Now as a full band, the album still values Knudsen’s originals and the lo-fi ideals of early recordings.

The song "Umiddelbart Banal" acts as the album’s centerpiece. Traveling the ground between acoustic arpeggios and expansive sweeping guitars, "Umiddelbart Banal" is a bit of a psych folk epic. Knuden’s voice, throughout, anchors the flux and layers of style. Though MYRESKÆR is a departure from Knudsen’s other project (DE HØJE HÆLE), songs like "Tænker Og Tænker" or "Grønne Gudinde" meet somewhere in the middle, easily combining surf licks with swaggering punk riffs. As a listener who does not speak or understand Danish, there’s something to the language that lends itself well – at least in Knudsen’s case – to communicating emotion and content without requiring true comprehension. You get it somehow. Knudsen’s voice is nuanced and seems to carry with it meaning simply through his dynamic range. No matter your range of languages, MYRESKÆR makes sense; you can hear meaning in it.

The album includes four bonus tracks of early versions of several songs, recorded and performed by Knudsen alone. These lo-fi recordings – reportedly recorded in basements, on cellphones, computers, and 4-tracks – are a surprisingly potent introduction to Knudsen’s vision, even if added as an addendum to the true album. While significantly less layered, the bonus tracks reveal a simple homage to Knudsen’s heroes, which, in the end, act as a backbone to the expanded and full band versions on the release. But, here, more easily, you can pick out elements of Love, The Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart, and Fairport Convention. MYRESKÆR continues in their tradition remarkably well and marks a strong addition to any updated psych collection.

"Umiddelbart Banalt" is available digitally on the label’s Bandcamp page below. Keep an eye out for the vinyl edition soon.

23 Apr 2015

Tiaras "S/T"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Ganglians are sadly missed, but we needn't be too mopey as Ryan Grubbs and Kyle Hoover have channeled their energies into an exciting new project. Enlisting Antonio Gualco (drums) of Fine Steps, Adam Finken (guitar) of Blasted Canyons, and Ryan Hansen (bass) to form Tiaras, the band quickly outgrew its side-project status on Ganglians' dissolution, and have taken their time recording a fine, confident debut here.

With a sound that still has links to Ganglians's 'sinister sunshine' Bay Area garage, Tiaras have opened the door to a whole host of other influences, ranging from the power-pop of the Dwight Twilley Band and Big Star, to the epic new wave synth-pop of the Cars and Tears For Fears. You're potentially scratching your head at this point and I'm sure you're not alone, but these rather divergent influences coalesce in a surprisingly cohesive fashion, and there's a stylistic unity to the album which blends these sounds into an immediately recognisable style that has a universal appeal which is much more than the sum of its parts. It's a potential trend-setter, and I'd be surprised if you don't suddenly hear a lot of  albums which sound like this over the next year or so.

Of course, it helps that Tiaras' songs are laden with irresistible hooks too - we're not talking style over substance by any stretch of the imagination. These songs have big, hooky choruses, but are not satisfied with leaving it at that; Grubbs' vocals frequently slip into a falsetto which provides earworm after earworm, and the jangly guitar parts are brimming with memorable riffs.

In the long run though it's an album that's built to be heard, not analysed. A sample track can be heard below, and those in the San Francisco area have many chances to catch what I hear is a killer live show. I'm kind of jealous, but hey, there's always the record.

Available here.

22 Apr 2015

The Hare & The Moon "Wood Witch"

Reviewed by Robin Hamlyn

A long time ago, when people of my rapidly greying generation were in the business of acquiring record collections, the emergence of a double album was always a significant event. Double albums were a challenge. Frequently concept-driven, they had the space to explore musical nooks and crannies unavailable to the single-platter format. The Hare and the Moon’s 80-minute opus, "Wood Witch", is very much in the spirit of these double long-players of yore, and like the best of them, it offers up a profusion of riches that will reward deep, sustained immersion.

“The Midnight Folk” opens with birdsong and the limpid strummings of a harp. A clarinet then declares a three-note melody that hangs gauzily above the sylvan scene before our first encounter with the Voice with which all aficionados of The Hare and the Moon are familiar. “When midnight strikes in the belfry dark,” it intones, “and the white goose grates at the fox’s bark, we saddle the horse.” A horse “that is hayless, oatless, hoofless and pranceless, kickless and coatless.” And we have indeed saddled up and embarked on a journey of the utmost strangeness.

“The Bard of Eve” ghosts into life with layered voices reminiscent of Popol Vuh, followed swiftly by ethereal vocals, underpinned by a softly insistent tympani and percussion. Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn springs to mind, but we are in even more enchanted territory here. There is a fire on the heath, around which dimly illuminated figures are dancing, graceful and measured, and yet the flames begin to illuminate something more sinister —what, exactly? — as Grey Malkin’s glorious, droning guitar saturates the atmosphere. “Come Unto the Corn” begins with the tremulous tones of a child invoking the presence of “holy behemoth”, entreating the entity to “rise now from the forest, from the furrows, from the field, and live!” All the while, a spectral march is coalescing out of the gloom, entreating us to fall into step, to follow the strange children into the depths of the woods.

“Reynardine” opens with the sound of a horn, yielding to a gorgeous string section which in turn supports a truly astonishing vocal performance. “O Taste and See” presents an unaccompanied vocal of rare purity; reminiscent of a boy-treble, transporting this listener to a draughty rural church at Evensong. And it is within the confines of this holy place that we remain for “Cruel Henry”, as massive organ tones permeate the stone-chilled air. The voice is once more reminiscent of a choir-boy, lending a menacing tincture to this intense murder-ballad. “The Wife of Usher’s Well” showcases Grey Malkin’s velvety voice — in occasional close harmony with itself — and demonstrates his genius as a musical story-teller. Grey illuminates the ballad from within, re-telling the ancient narrative with a compelling darkness that makes it seem newly minted. “The Erl King”’s eerie ambience circles and spreads before the Voice ---- whose phrasing here is reminiscent of the album’s opening track ---- beckons the listener once more to shadowy, liminal spaces. The song’s chilling narrative is beautifully delivered, the Voice trembling on the edge of breathlessness, once more re-presenting the antique in a temporal context that belongs to neither past nor future.

The unaccompanied Voice that delivers “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry” takes us straight to the bruised heart of this Orcadian ballad, while the brief-but-magical instrumental interlude that is “Down by the Greenwood Side” throws a lambent glow on our sepulchral surroundings. “The Cruel Mother”’s opening figure is heavily phased, evoking a distinctly 1970s sound-world, and when those soft yet stygian tympani strokes once more emerge from the myst, we are somewhere between the foliage of Black Park — Hammer Studios’ location of choice when filming forest scenes — and the strange aural poetry of the sort that graced the 4AD label during the 1980s (think This Mortal Coil, The Cocteau Twins, and Harold Budd). It is a breathtaking moment, and when the Voice emerges to propel the bleak narrative into even gloomier regions, the full impact of this ghostly waltz becomes apparent. “The Dream” takes us into the orbit of “Treasure”-era Cocteau Twins, but saturated with an indefinable strangeness that claims the latter’s ethereal spirit and plants it right in the heart of the woods. “O Death” breathes itself softly to life amid the chimes of an Aeolian harp, the sound of the wind, and a delicate vocal “wash”, almost Mellotron-choir like in character. Towards the end of the track, more softly disturbing percussion makes its entrance, carrying in its wake more of Grey’s ominous guitar, and culminating with the deep bronze chimes of a cathedral bell.

“The Gloaming”’s opening bouquet of wiry guitar and twisted piano disintegrates into a profusion of carnival phantasy; all haunted music boxes and Brechtian menace. “The Willow Tree” features an utterly compelling male vocal, whose whisky-soaked entreaties recall Nick Drake, Ian Curtis, and Stuart Staples. Against a luminous myst of shifting textures, this voice, bleakly accepting of its fate “to die beneath the willow tree” dissipates amidst the glorious ruins of Grey’s sonic architecture. “Morgiana” opens with a wintery tune emanating from a silvery music-box before blossoming into a glorious, hugely uplifting fountain of melody. The tempo is stately, but this track exhibits a hard-won joyfulness, trailing off into the mellow distance, like lantern-bearers at an ancient ceremony.

This is one of the most important albums you’ll hear this year, and a milestone in The Hare and the Moon’s output. Grey Malkin is a master of his idiom, and supreme practitioner of his art. Listening to this album, I’m reminded of the words Richard Thompson used to pay tribute to the great Martin Carthy: “He’s like an old Samurai swordsman, quietly honing his craft.” Unlike Carthy, Grey is not old, but his music has neither a past nor a present, neither a starting nor an ending point. Nor is it rooted in any other terrain than that of an imagination transfigured by the fire of a glorious, insatiable muse. An astonishing achievement.

Available on CD from Reverb Worship.

You can sample many tracks from the album here.

21 Apr 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 31

Here's this month's sampler for you.

Jackie Donner has supplied the sleeve art again - check out her new music blog Archival Shift.

This month we feature the following tracks:

Cranium Pie - The Lost Song
Kobadelta - Maskirovka
Craig & Yikii - Whale in the Belly
The Owl Service - How the Gods Kill
Klaus Morlock - First Gathering
NM and the No Man Band - Pineline
Alice Artaud - Ouroboros Theme
The Ilk - Jabberwocky
The Moon Band - In My Clothes
Jim Griffin - The Ranger and The Cleric (Edit #1)
Ocean Music - When I Was the Setting Sun
Chef Menteur - Terpsichore
Gilligan Smiles - Atlas Johnson & The Chestnut Green Railway
Charles Howl - Give Me Solar
Ten Mouth Electron - Young Nuns

The Bandcamp page has links to all of these artists if you would like to hear more. Please investigate any artists that you enjoy from the sampler!

One More Grain "Grain Fever"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

One More Grain, or Outer Hebrides based musician Daniel Patrick Quinn and London dwelling accomplice Andrew Blick, unveil their third long player 'Grain Fever' described by Quinn as 'a series of intense hallucinations'. And this turns out to be an apt description, there is something lysergic and dreamlike about this album; make no mistake, not dreamy in any floaty new age type of manner but rather as surreal, jarring, weird, otherworldly and also downright thrilling. Quinn has a parallel career as a fine folk artist (seek out the splendid 'Ridin' The Stag' or 'Jura') and some of the aspects of traditional music follow him here; many of the stomps found herein could also be described as jigs and the emphasis on drones is maintained (there are strictly no chord changes are used on the album).

Opener 'Leg Stomper' is just that, a Fall-like barnstorm with insistent brass and Quinn's snarling vocals creating a new form of psych; punk in essence, folk in structure and post punk in delivery. Tagged by the band as 'totalitarian ceilidh' you need to hear this; the track is aural adrenaline. 'Winner's Music' is stranger still, the drone of an accordion, falsetto backing vocals and a Russian style polka beat. Yet it works on numerous levels; on a gut level this music stirs and thrives, equally on a cerebral basis the off kilter lyrics and performance are pleasingly disturbing and unsettling. Quinn's vocals descend into a maelstrom of bubbling and gargling sounds effects as the song draws to a close; imagine the Art Bears on an enormous dose of caffeine. 'On Dream Hill' is an Eno flecked synth and chanter led lament; a modern folk music. 'The Meteor Impact Site' is propelled along on a motorik bass and synth line, Quinn's poem like impressionistic lyrics flowing over the accelerating heartbeat of the song. Sounding not unlike if 'Before And After Science' era Eno had lived on and took inspiration from a small rural Scottish island, the track takes flight repeatedly in exhilarating fashion, ending with a distant trumpet call. 'Doctor’s Bolero' introduces an eastern tinge, with what sounds like a balalaika refrain repeating under a Cossack stomp whilst Quinn's sombre vocal recounting tales of lunacy and herbal tea.

'Dawn Breaks At Confusion Swamp' begins with an unearthly howl, the sound of scratching and a single drone note pervading the darkness before Quinn enters with a lyric that recalls CS Lewis’s 'The Hunting Of The Snark'. Foreboding trumpet flits through the undergrowth, a hair on the back of the neck moment and utterly majestic. The song then takes on a distorted radio signal, a kind of half tuned Scottish jig or reel. Unnerving and spellbinding, you truly never quite know what is going to happen next on a Grains of Sand album. Accordingly, 'Doolittle Jig's disco bassline and corrosive guitars turn the album on its head once more in a demented and yet bewitching piece of new wave funk. Next, 'The Scent Of Gorse flowers' is a delicate and truly beautiful folk paean, harmonised vocals shimmering across the accordion and guitars; The band can not only do experimental art rock but also perfect slices of psych folk pop too. 'Man On The Outpost' trumpet intro bleeds into waves of haunting analogue synth, the night-time feel of the song perfectly blending with Quinn's evocative words; this song has a strong case (as do other elements of this album) to be a worthy audio companion to Robert Wyatt's equally serene yet surreal opus 'Rock Bottom'.

The press release handily informs us that drinks recommended to go with this album are Caffrey's Ale, Shadow Tea and any bottle of Shiraz costing £5.99 or more. It is this playful, thoughtful and unique approach that makes the album what it is; a veritable treasure. One More Grain pursue their own fine furrow, that much is certain; yet there is so much beauty, joy, melancholy and life in this album that it would be a massive loss not to hear this, to listen in wonder. I invite you to do just that.

Available now as a download to be followed by a 2x12” vinyl release.

20 Apr 2015

Nine Questions with Amerikan Bear

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

Today.... Nathan Wettstead of Amerikan Bear.

What was the first record you bought?

I picked up the Iggy and the Stooges "I gotta right/ gimme some skin", along with The Mummies "planet of the apes" single at an amazing record store called Off the Record in San Diego back in 98'. It was the first time I had ever heard something that wild and cut throat. Those records changed the game for me.

What was the last record you bought?

Spirit - Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

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

I was brought into music by Don Murray of the Turtles. I was originally going to be a percussionist like him, but drums were apparently not on my folk's agenda. I ended up getting a guitar a few years down the road and never looked back. Don once told me before he passed, that he was the original drummer on "Wipeout'. Great dude all around.

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

Arthur Lee of Love. The man may have been off kilter a little, but he knew what he wanted. He could invoke just about any emotion in you with his arrangements. And the structure of his songs were like operatic movements. To stand in the man's shadow would be the most humbling feat, let alone creating that ingenious beauty with him. He was a true master of our time and a genius.

Who should we be listening to right now?

I've been listening to Dahga Bloom "No Curtains". Its not so much on the traditional psychedelic side but more along the lines of Spacemen 3 and Hawkwind. Real pedal mastery, which is pretty much on the opposite side of the spectrum of what I do, but fascinating in the sense that its like hearing a new language for the first time telling the same story.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?

Vinyl of course. Everything else is just convenient. But everything else also lacks the warmth of vinyl.

Tell us about your latest release.

It's a traditional take on 60's California psych. Steering clear of the pop/ teenage angst idealistics that most of our contemporaries are trying to achieve. I wanted to make a timeless tribute to the bands that molded me (Love, Quicksilver, the Byrds) as well as speak to all age demographics about life. Because its not all about holding hands lovingly, being a witch, or any other denomination of confused, young, music lover. Its an album about the many shitty deals life slides across the table and on to your plate, and how we move forward as people after we suck on that lemon. Things we can all relate to. Did I mention you can still dance to all this?

What's next for you, musically?

We just completed a new single featuring Alex from the Black Angels singing. Were also set to play day two of Austin Psych Fest, which is the same day as the 13th Floor Elevators performance. As well as recording another album this Summer.

What's for dinner?

Rubber buns and liquor


Holy Serpent "S/T"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Melbourne's Holy Serpent joins the international ranks of a burgeoning stoner-psych scene with their gritty five-song self-titled debut scheduled for release this May from the always reliable Riding Easy Records. The four piece – formed only in 2014 – takes their cue from bands like Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Witchcraft and wield dueling, fuzzy guitars like seasoned diviners. With all the necessary doom boxes checked, Holy Serpent’s debut is a promising introduction packed with dissonant guitar leads, sludgy riffs, spacey vocals, and a confidently heavy rhythm section.

The riff and wavering vocals of "Shroom Doom" are laden with menacing doom, so much so that by the time the guitar lead breaks through, its off-kilter feel makes sense. Somehow, this song spirals into a catchy chorus that, from the start of things, wouldn’t have seemed possible.

Standout track, "Fool's Gold", opens up a bit more and brims with stoner-rock ambience, revealing the band’s skill for complete sonic control. Sure, they can do heavy, but they can also build a wild, slow jam that naturally rises and falls and blurs the line between modern and a few decades past.

This is heavy, doom rock that comes with enough psychedelic elements to feel like it’s from another far-out-there planet beyond the asteroid belt. There’s no jangly neo-surf rock or motorik beats; this record was born from a love for heaviness and maybe a little bit of healthy nostalgia. (Promotional material lists a love for weed and skate parks in the palette as well.) The aesthetics of the garage reign here. Like, for certain listeners, Sleep’s "Dopesmoker" is made for long car rides (or pretty much any occasion), Holy Serpent’s debut is made for multiple listens and getting a bit lost each time.

Holy Serpent’s debut is available digitally from their Bandcamp page and on vinyl or CD from RidingEasy Records.


19 Apr 2015

The Amorphous Androgynous "A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Exploding In Your Mind) Vol. 4 - The Wizards of Oz"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's been a long time since the last entry in this series, but the Future Sound of London boys have been keeping themselves very busy producing Noel Gallagher, remixing Syd Arthur, and putting out their own "Cartel" albums. Somehow, this busy schedule has left them time to dig through innumerable crates to find the excruciatingly rare Australasian psychedelic / progressive rock gems that form the backbone for this release.

Sourcing original copies of many of these albums (should you even be able to find them) would be a cripplingly expensive exercise, such is the rareness and obscurity of much of what you will hear here. Indeed Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans admit that many of the delights contained within were unknown to them before they began the gargantuan task of accumulating these tracks.

Noticeably light on tracks from here in New Zealand (we were never particularly out-there, so probably a good aesthetic choice), "The Wizards of Oz" does a fabulous job of joining the dots between the then and the now of Australian psychedelia, illustrated perfectly by its opening salvo; Russel Morris's epic kitchen-sink production "The Real Thing" is one of the best singles of the sixties from anywhere, and following it up with Tame Impala's recent "It Is Not Meant To Be" is an inspired move, showing simultaneously just how forward-thinking "The Real Thing" was, and also how comfortably its more recent offspring can keep company with the big boys.

The duo do a great job of mixing these tracks into a surprisingly timeless sounding mix, with even tracks sourced from eighties revivalists (Sunset Strip, The Tyrnaround) avoiding the big, brash production issues of the times.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery here is just how cosmic a lot of this music is. Recent reissues, and blogs aplenty have made us aware of Cybotron over the last few years, but it would appear that there's plenty more below the surface too, with Leong Lau's "Salem Abdullah"from 1977 pulling a lot of the same strings as the second side of "Low".

Consider yourself warned though. This is likely to be an expense-inducing puchase. The album itself is very reasonably priced, but there is a lot of stuff on here that you're going to want to investigate further, some of which has been reissued recently, but a lot of which you'll need to dig much deeper for. We can simultaneously thank, and curse the Amorphous Androgynous for getting us started.

Available here on CD.

18 Apr 2015

Sharron Kraus "Friends and Enemies, Lovers and Strangers"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Sharron Kraus should be a name that is familiar to all lovers of psych and modern acid folk. For the last 13 or so years she has tirelessly been releasing classic and timeless wyrd folk both under her own name and with contemporaries and friends such as United Bible Studies member Michael Tanner, Gillian Chadwick of Ex-Reverie (under the name Rusalnaia), as Traveller's Two with Fursaxa's Tara Burke and with US psych legends The Iditarod. On this, her debut for the ever splendid Clay Pipe Music, Kraus has assembled a magical collection of songs inspired by the Welsh folktale compendium The Mabinogi. Inspired by her time living in rural Wales and ably backed by Harriet Earis's harp, Nancy Wallace (of The Owl Service) on vocals and Directorsound's Nick Palmer on piano, Kraus has created an utterly spellbinding thing of beauty and wonder. As otherworldly as the folk tales that inspired the music, this is an album that demands complete, rapt attention and careful listening.

'My Friend’s Enemy' is a woodland lament; spectral harp and recorder intertwine beneath the eerie and haunting twin vocals of both Kraus and Wallace; reminiscent of such psych holy grails as Mellow Candle’s 'Swaddling Songs' and more recent masterpieces such as Espers' debut album, this is a quietly dramatic and deeply evocative work. ‘The Hunter’ is more pensive, a stately, processionary and cautionary musical tale framed with bewitching choral harmonies, bowed dulcimer and shimmering guitar. The song itself sways and shimmies as if darting between trees in some darkened woodland. Next, 'Branwen' opens with intricate acoustic guitars and veritable waterfalls of harp, its melancholy tale beautifully framed in its baroque setting. Kraus’s vocals are expressive, crystal clear and tinged with a ghostly aspect; there is something ancient and timeless in her voice as she recounts these age old stories and legends. 'A Hero's Death' adds warmth in its acoustic arpeggios and is jauntier, almost a jig, albeit a medieval sounding one.

The chamber folk that soundtracks these tales deserves special mention; perfectly and sensitively pitched and never over frilly but instead earthy and with a rough beauty. It is at once unique and also oddly familiar, as if part of some ancient collective unconscious. 'The Birds Of Rhiannon' puts the vocals of Wallace and Kraus together again to stunning effect amid a bed of recorder, chimes and organ. Majestic, mysterious and mournful the drones that underpin the song add their own unearthly air to proceedings. 'A Quiet Place' follows; a mellower and warmly introspective piece which makes effective use of the twin vocal harmonies and is propelled forward by layered, gossamer threads of harp. Curiously it reminds this listener of some of the Burning World-era Swans numbers that were performed by vocalist Jarboe. There is the same sense of beauty but also foreboding. 'Farewell’s bowed dulcimer and stately air is almost Appalachian (but then many ballads and myths travelled from the Celtic countries to the Americas), a siren’s song of loss and of the lost. It is utterly transfixing and seems to cast eyes back on a long left homeland. 'Blodeuwedd' is a delicate acid folk piece, built primarily on harp and recorder, again with an undertow of sorrow and regret but also magic. 'Stranger In Your Land' ends the album, perhaps autobiographical, certainly heartfelt and with a grandeur and grace that befits the closing of such a special and unique recording. Organ, guitar and harp wisp and whirl around Kraus’s voice, a fairy tale ending.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. As a long term admirer of Kraus’s work I have grown accustomed to a high degree of quality and ambition in each of her subsequent releases but this album in particular feels to be in a world, space and time of its own. Gather round in the dark, pull the blankets tighter, ignore the wind whistling through the trees and listen to some very old tales indeed.

Available from the splendid Clay Pipe label in a run of 500 numbered vinyl copies with download code and illustrated booklet, pre-orders began on April 13th for eventual release on the 18th May. The album also comes in a truly beautifully designed and painted sleeve by label owner Frances Castle. Clay Pipe's output always comes with a high quality of packing and artwork and this is no different.


16 Apr 2015

Editorial - Record Store Day

There's a whole lot of negative noise about Record Store Day again this year. There's no denying that the major label's cynical approach to high priced repressings of almost anything, and the inevitable flood of titles that are already appearing on eBay are downsides of a day with uniformly positive intentions.

While it's fashionable to bag RSD for these (and other) reasons, let's make the best of it, and celebrate its noble purpose. The day, after all, was set up to celebrate independent Record Stores, and we certainly haven't reached a point where these stores can get along comfortably without your support.

I openly acknowledge that independent labels are getting a rough deal at the pressing plants, because of RSD pressings by major labels, but does that mean we should boycott the day itself?  Hell, no. Why punish your local indie store(s) - if you're lucky enough to still have any - for the greed of the major labels? By doing so, you're helping to silence the independent voice of the music community, and empowering the major labels to be even more dominant.

So, visit your local independent on Saturday. Enjoy the events they have organised for you. Boycott the major label RSD releases if you want to make a statement, but buy some records from your local if and when you can afford it. Never feel bad about buying used if that's what your budget necessitates - you're getting a better deal, and the store is probably making a better margin on it. And visit some of the other 364 days of the year too, even if it's just for a chat. And if you want to support the Indie labels who are marginalised by the majors at this time of the year (as a reader of this blog, I expect that you already do), buy some records or downloads directly from them, or their artists at shows.

I hope you all have a great day on Saturday, and see it as a chance to celebrate in the proper spirit.

Charles Howl "Sir Vices"

Reviewed by Maggie Danna

Charles Howl blends driving rock and acoustic sentiments with a feel-good vibe and nostalgic dreaminess in their latest release, and first LP, "Sir Vices". Originally started as a side project of The Proper Ornaments, Charles Howl certainly stands out now with its own unique sound. Subtly psychedelic, Sir Vices contains hints of diverse genres ranging from West Coast 1960s rock and jangle pop to 1980s British rock, shoegaze, and folk. Baroque instrumentals and orchestral splendour are also prominent and certain parts of the album really remind me of Jacco Gardner, especially on the opener, “Going Down With A Hi”, and “Sky Birds Blue”.

"Sir Vices" is both laid-back, with relaxed vocals and a chilled overall feeling, and highly dynamic. Instrumental interludes and backdrops including twangy guitars, sitar, zealous riffs, and airy reverb keep the album fresh and exciting and keep listeners on their feet. “Lunacy,” one of my favourite tracks, is a perfect example of this union; it’s relaxed but also has a great beat and powerful bass riff, and even reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys with its warm energy, upbeat chorus and lively vocal harmonies, and the theme of the insanity of being in love. “I Love You 47” is more energetic and gradually incorporates a slight drone as it progresses, adding yet another style to the diverse mixture. “Sighed At Me” is my overall favourite and I actually cannot stop listening to it. It’s dreamily melancholic with a gently ebbing and flowing background of sound and a touch of falsetto. “Peace and Quiet”, verging into dream pop with its simply vocals and bright and reverbed guitar jabs, is reminiscent of Fenster, especially their album "The Pink Caves". “The New Shade” has an intense, uplifting crescendo, which along with a pick-up in tempo really shows off the invigorative power of the band.

I especially recommend Charles Howl if you like The Byrds and Love. If you enjoy "Sir Vices", check out the band’s self-titled 2013 EP as well, as it is also excellent.

Sir Vices is available here on vinyl.

14 Apr 2015

The Ar-kaics - Always the Same b/w Let Me In& The Belltowers - Here To Stay b/w Lovin You

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

This March, Market Square Records released two great 45s from The Ar-kaics’ and The Belltowers. Both releases are available for streaming on the Market Square Records bandcamp page. The Belltowers’ limited 45 is still available direct from Market Square Records and includes a digital version, but The Ar-kaics’ is down to its last few copies from 13 O'Clock Records, with Market Square's supply having already disappeared, so get in quick!

Richmond, Virginia’s The Ar-Kaics follow up their killer 2014 self-titled debut with a pair of fuzzy, garage punk tracks which continue what they started. A-side "Always the same" is a ferocious, angst-ridden take on garage punk. Drenched with feedback and a little buried, Kevin Longendyke’s voice carries the song from swaggering accusations to primal screams. It’s a topside track through and through: catchy, heartfelt, and brutal. B-side "Let Me In" plays the remedy through. Slower and moodier, "Let Me In" sways dreamily, chugging along with its hypnotic beat while still feeling vital and just as jagged.

Orlando, Florida folk-rockers The Belltowers are headed up by Paul Mutchler, formerly of The Lears and The Green Today. Their tracks are infused with melody and jangling folk rock. A-side "Here to Stay" is a rich take on Paisley Underground style guitar (so, of course, The Byrds), complete with Hammond Organ accompaniment and precisely reverbed leads. "Lovin’ You", the B-side, is a great flip side, proving that The Belltowers are seasoned veterans of harmony and catchy riffs. They’ve been at it as a group now, for almost ten years, and it shows.

Both titles are currently available from 13 O'Clock Records, with the Belltowers still available from Market Square Records too.

Stream both titles here:

13 Apr 2015

Delia Derbyshire / Barry Bermange ‎"Inventions For Radio: The Dreams"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A real treat for Delia's legion of fans here. "Dreams" was originally made in collaboration with Barry Bermange and broadcast on BBC Radio's "Third Programme" on 05-01-1964. Quite what the listening public made of it, I can't imagine, as even today it's a strangely beautiful, but nightmarish proposition, with a slow, spooky atmosphere that immediately made me think of "Carnival of Souls".

Bermange recorded a selection of typically well-spoken, upper crust sounding members of the English public describing their uncomfortable, claustrophobic dreams, in a calm monotone which hints at the coiled mania beneath. David Lynch would love both the delivery, and the surreal depth of detail here.

These recordings were then spliced and reassembled, with excellent use of repetition to build tension, with Derbyshire providing suitably nightmarish electronic soundscapes that accentuate the feeling of mounting terror. Those who are fans of her eerie Doctor Who work will feel right at home here, although this is creepier than anything the Beeb would have allowed on their flagship kid's sci-fi show.

It's riveting stuff, presented in five themed movements. "Falling" is a particular revelation, full of edge of the seat moments, with a deliberately slow pace that racks up the tension to unbearable levels.

Word is unfortunately, that this vinyl release is a bootleg, and that it's sourced from 256k mp3s. It sounds like it may well be, unfortunately; it's certainly not an ideal situation, but given its relatively lo-fi origins, it doesn't suffer too much from this treatment. While I'm loathe to support this sort of venture, it's historical importance, coupled with the unlikeliness of an official release anytime soon (or indeed, ever) make this a no-regrets purchase for me, and should an official release eventuate, a re-buy is a certainty.

An essential addition to your Radiophonic collection.

Available from Norman Records here.

Nine Questions with Sam Cohen

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

Today.... Sam Cohen.

What was the first record you bought?
It was the cassette single of "Bat Dance" by Prince from the Michael Keaton Batman. That was before I really identified with music though. It was just a souvenir that seemed necessary because I loved Batman. Appetite For Destruction was the one that got me thinking, "maybe I should do this!".

What was the last record you bought?
I think it was This Is Clarence Carter. I was doing a gig playing guitar for Charles Bradley in Switzerland, and we were maybe going to do Slip Away as an encore. We didn't, but when I was checking it out to learn, it just sounded so good, so I went ahead and bought the whole record. That first song Do What You Gotta Do is my jam! Would have been a great tune for Elvis. Has that Memphis thing, and it's a little more songwriter-y than most Clarence Carter stuff.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Well, I'm left-handed, I love pickles, and I can't help staring at huge butts. They're hypnotic and great. And, when I was around 8, I could recite the entire movie Clue.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
Is it okay to say Jimi Hendrix? Those records have it all - improvising and hooks, monster playing and sonic experimentation. It's some of the most compelling music ever captured on tape and I'd love to witness how he achieved that balance. I'd like to see what happened effortlessly and what they had to dig into. Who was having which ideas. All that!

Who should we be listening to right now?
Whatever makes you feel good! The latest thing that struck me as essential listening that I hadn't given the proper attention was the first Latin Playboys record. David Hidalgo, a master on several instruments, is laying down ideas on a warped four track, which was then embellished and mixed by Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom. The grooves are amazing and so are the sounds and layers. It's loose, never precious or self conscious because it was intended as demos. I love hearing someone be themselves in front of a recording device, which definitely does not describe a lot of recordings, though it seems like it would.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
I've had my mind blown by music on all formats, so suffice it to say, it's more the message than the medium. Plenty of music that I've never experienced as anything other than a medium quality MP3 has changed my way of thinking about recording or songwriting or composing, so on the one hand, who cares. That said, I'm not fully satisfied by any format. I'm a little lazy for vinyl. Hate to admit it, but it's true. Plus, a lot of the stuff I would like to listen to on vinyl gets into fetish-y collector territory that I reserve for gear. Digital is great for convenience and storage and accessibility, and I think it would be more satisfying if digital playback systems improved. If there were better converters in iPods and computers, that'd be a big step in the right direction. If we decided music files could be bigger and just used lossless formats, I think that'd be pretty great. I want to embrace modern concepts and technology and not be a curmudgeon, but I do miss album art, and it's nice to disconnect from the screen when trying to enjoy music, which is more spiritual than the screen lets you feel sometimes. That sounds dogmatic, but I'm feeling it more lately. I want something simple and easy, yet tactile and fulfilling. Now that I really think about it, cassettes in a car might be the deepest form of musical enjoyment!

Tell us about your latest release.
It's my first solo album, and it's really exciting for me to put music out in this way. For years, I've made demos of certain songs where I play all the instruments just to have sketches for the band to hear or learn from. It's always been my favorite part of the process. This time out, that's the record for the most part. Playing and recording with that feeling of discovery in my own little world. It makes me happy and I'm excited for people to hear it.

What's next for you, musically?
I've been doing a lot of production these days and I have a few albums slated that I'm very excited about. Also hoping my record will reach enough people that it makes sense to get out and do some touring. Ideas are beginning to form for the next record as well. I have a sense of the vibe I want and the instruments I need around me.

What's for dinner?
I'm in Houston right now visiting my parents, so my wife and I are going out to Prego, a good friend's Italian restaurant, while my folks watch our baby girl. Date night! It's a huge deal.


12 Apr 2015

The Moon Band "S/T"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Moon Band came to the attention of fans of all things psych and wyrd with their debut single ‘Cedar People/My Home’, a classic slice of acid tinged 70s style folk that both impressed and got it's melodic claws into those who heard it leaving those listeners keen to hear more. And now here is the opportunity to do just that as the band's debut album is released on download by (Dodson and Fogg frontman) Chris Wade's excellent Wisdom Twins imprint. Indeed Wade seems to be determined to bring sophisticated and classic psych folk to the masses with his label; he has recently reissued the two long lost Mr Pine albums alongside an extensive and treasure filled back catalogue of Dodson And Fogg albums and side projects. Here, the Canadian Moon Band's two members Nicholas Tomlinson and Renée Forrester play a virtual folk orchestra's worth of instruments including bouzouki, sitar, fiddle, guitar, autoharp, banjo and recorders and whistles to create their full, emotive and carefully layered sound, resulting in an album that could have been recorded and considered a classic of the genre at any point in the last 30 years.

Opener 'Comin' Back Babe' is a country tinged piece of musical perfection that, with its dual vocal harmonies, recalls Gram Parsons duets with Emmylou Harris as well as the more reflective works of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Instantly emotive and with a dreamy nostalgia all of its own, this is an ideal introduction to what is a veritable treasure chest of folk and Laurel Canyon tinged gems. 'Silver And Gold' is a delicate and dreamlike slice of acid folk, Forrester's vocals imbued with beauty and melancholy that evokes images of endless fields of flowers and long lost scorching summers. There is a sepia tinged sense of wonder to proceedings; the whole song a lesson in melody and seemingly effortless classic songwriting. Next, the Kate Bush hued 'Be It In The Pines Or By The Sea' is a fiddle led witches song that recalls The Incredible String Band and Linda Perhacs in its otherworldly and eerie atmosphere, whilst 'Fortune's Way' pits both vocalists together in a sitar soaked perfect golden nugget of psych folk. 'Cedar People’s flower people harmonies and woodwind are utterly entrancing and timeless, the atmosphere not unlike an Alice In Wonderland dreamscape as sitar drives the song forward in lysergic fashion. 'Lazarus', meanwhile, is a fingerpicked, acoustic Appalachian lament with swathes of reverb dripping off the guitars. It is a hugely evocative and atmospheric piece, filled with hair on the back of the neck moments. Next, 'Old Friend' is a banjo and guitar filled tapestry that reminds this listener of The Doors 'Spanish Caravan' in its esoteric flourishes and sense of drama, a personal highlight in an album of genuinely magical moments. 'In My Clothes' is a wintery slice of acid specked loveliness, sitar and tabla providing a purple, baroque backdrop to Forester's incredible vocals. Shimmering and glistening with echoes of the summer of love, there is a beguiling nostalgia here that is both warmly comfortable and deeply immersive. 'Of The North' follows, a track that Trees or Bert Jansch would have been proud of (there is a definitely more than a hint of Pentangle here, The Moon Band are proudly beatnik and all the better for it). 'A Day Trip Round The Yard' is a Nick Drake styled gentle stroll at late dusk that dissolves into a thrillingly acid flashback style mosaic of backwards tapes and bouzouki as the track delves deeper down the rabbit hole. 'Tobacco Farm' is a reflective and melancholic duet whilst closer 'My Home' is a patchouli perfumed and carefully constructed piece of dreamfolk that is subsequently completely and utterly bewitching. It is the ideal conclusion to an album of such delicately weft and woven musical dreams.

That this is The Moon Band's first outing is nothing short of impressive; they have created a recording of such assurance, maturity and longevity that their future work is a genuinely exciting concept to consider. And for just now, this is an album that begs to be the soundtrack to your summer. Time to place those flowers in your hair.

Available now as a download at The Wisdom Twins Bandcamp site.

11 Apr 2015

Gilligan Smiles Premiere & Free Download

Melbourne's Gilligan Smiles are premiering their new single "Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway" with us today. It's the first track from their excellent upcoming album "Karmasouptruck", which we're happy to be co-releasing shortly with the Claustrophobe Records label.

"Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway" can be downloaded on a free / name your own price basis from the Claustrophobe Records Bandcamp page below:

Band press release: Gilligan Smiles was born out of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs through the musical union of Jimmy Jangles – Studio Engineer and Rocket destroyer M.D., and Michael Melody – wordsmith and slick licking space cadet extraordinaire. Bonding over a love of musical exploration and a common interest in the pursuit of fame and fortune, they began making music in 2011. Following an EP, Woods, and a debut album titled Smiling Only Got You So Far, the duo began Chilli-Peppering through several drummers and bassists before finally settling their mettle with their current bassist, Rhys “Soup” Campbell, and drummer Toby “the Sword” Ward. In 2014 a Ganymedean midwife delivered from the womb their second album, Fi.Fy.Fo.Funk, and the band begun playing gigs across Melbourne, musically inoculating the vulnerable immune systems of many.

Now Gilligan Smiles presents before you the single, Atlas Johnson and the Chestnut Green Railway, from the upcoming album Karmasouptruck. Inspired by the streets of East Richmond leading towards Jimmy’s workplace, it details the plight of Karmasouptruck’s main protagonist – Atlas Johnson. Gilligan Smiles’ journey towards Karmasouptruck has been directly influenced by the music of The Flaming Lips, Dungen and late 60s-early 70s psychedelia. 2015 heralds the beginning of a highly anticipated adventure into the world outside of the studio for Gilligan Smiles, and they want you to join them and Atlas Johnson for the ride.


10 Apr 2015

Ocean Music "Ocean Music"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Hudson River Valley's Richard Aufrichtig is the chief protagonist behind Ocean Music and their compelling, and extremely accomplished debut. A driven songwriter, Aufrichtig already has thirteen releases to his name - a tremendous feat as he is only currently in his mid twenties. "Ocean Music" benefits both from the experience garnered from these previous releases, and also from a sense of renewed purpose, and comradery with the supporting cast of Benjamin Engel, Jack Randall, Ben Seretan, Alice Tolan-Mee, Trevor Wilson and Ethan Woods.

At heart, Aufrichtig writes very simple, direct songs, straight from the heart with an emotional intensity that is belied by his relaxed, conversational vocal delivery. It's troubadour music really, but where others may be happy to relate on a one to one basis with their audience in a sparse setting that allows the lyrics to be the sole focus, Aufrichtig has a more sprawling, cinematic setting in mind. While his vocals are always centre stage and very high in the mix, his conspirators here provide an epic soundscape that on the likes of "Fragments / Duino" really make it sound like it's drifting in to shore from somewhere mysterious and unfamiliar.

It's a gorgeous sounding album, which sounds like it's had loads of money thrown at it. The sense of grandeur present on Bon Iver, and Fleet Foxes albums is effortlessly captured here, with its majestic, billowing arrangements perfectly supporting Aufrichtig's engaging, resonant vocals.

It's the sort of album which is going to mean different things to different people, and as such, I don't feel comfortable influencing you with too many of my own interpretations. Suffice to say, that it is an album that will immediately grab your attention, and continue shedding layers of mystery, allowing you a step closer with each listen in a fashion that will keep you coming back increasingly regularly for more.

And you will be left wanting more, so I'm delighted to be able to tell you that Richard already has two further Ocean Music song-cycles recorded, one of which will be released later this year.

And if you're lucky enough to be in the area, you can catch Ocean Music live at Babycastles on April 24th with Active Listener faves The Moonsicles, You lucky, lucky people.

Vinyl, digital, and full stream of this lovely thing can be found here:

9 Apr 2015

Chef Menteur "III"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Sunrise Ocean Bender have just released a fantastic collection of New Orleans’ space rockers Chef Menteur’s sprawling and expansive work: "East of the Sun & West of the Moon" (2012), "North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday" (the latter’s previously unreleased companion album), and "Force Majeure" (2014). Beautifully packaged as a 3 CD set, the collection represents the achievements of Chef Menteur’s years of compiling, recording, releasing, and performing. Blending elements of post-rock, psychedelic (sometimes heavy), folk, electronica, Krautrock (Kosmiche, space rock, et cetera), and even some noise, Chef Menteur offer a diversity unusual for consistent and impressive acts.

"East of the Sun & West of the Moon" was apparently years in the making and tailored to a double LP rather than its full four albums worth of epic psych rock. (Fortunately, you get more of it with "North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday".) Tracks like "Nacronaut" offer up sheaves of layered, rolling feedback and strip to bare vibrato progressions and ambient tones, as if song structures are something meant only for forward motion. Alternately, tracks like "Il obstrue ma vue de Vénus" recall the heyday of late ‘90s and early 2000s post rock – of course with a bit of a modern flavor. And then there’s the jazzy – almost chillwave – style of "Lozenge Club" and the Boards of Canada-esque "The Forest", complete with sampled documentary-like spoken clips.

"Force Majeure" was soft-released in 2014 on a very limited edition cassette, but, with a new mastering, the album acts as the final CD of the triptych. It also happens to be this listener’s favorite of the three, though also the shortest. As the most recent recording from Chef Menteur as well, "Force Majeure" sounds honed and complete in its five tracks. "Færoe", the ambient opening track, is a wonderful eight minutes of swells and falls and, though the following four songs are heavier in a number of ways, it acts as an easy introduction to the musicianship and aesthetic of Chef Menteur. The remainder of the album brings tight rhythms, a bit of funk, dissonant organ work, and massive guitar sounds. In other words, it has it all. If you’re not a convert by the end of the second disc, the third will do the trick.

Chef Menteur’s III is available now through the links below on “professionally press and printed CDRs in Stumptown jacket.” For longtime fans, this is may come as a familiar – but well packaged – reintroduction to Chef Menteur’s discography, and, for newcomers, a perfect and complete entrance.


7 Apr 2015

The Ilk "Drei​-​Osterei" E​P

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The mysterious and elusive The Ilk follow their seasonal Halloween and Festive EPs (and full length magnum opus and one of this listener’s favourites of 2014 'The New Dark Age') with the ‘Drei-Osterei’ EP, just in time for Ēostre, Easter or Ostara, or whichever particular Equinox you celebrate. And, like its sister EPs, it is a veritable delight of prog-infused psych and folk, complete with the dark shadowy corners and odd angles so masterfully delivered by previous outings. In short, there is something very special indeed about The Ilk.

Opener 'Spring Surprise' is a dark but sprightly piano and harpsichord led 'John Barry meets Wicker Man' piece of psychedelic prog. Female backing vocals merge with squelching synths, organ and wailing analogue sound effects to create a kind of Swinging London goes rural horror vibe (think of British Hammer style flick ‘Crucible of Terror’). It is mind-blowingly good, no-one else does what the Ilk do and do so well. Next 'Jabberwocky' combines a child's recitation of Lewis Carroll’s famous poem with a folky and Floydian organ, acoustic guitar, Caravan style Canterbury keyboards (there is something of both Pye Hastings' band and Kevin Ayers about The Ilk) and creeping, howling guitars that add a shiver to the rustic warmth of the track. This is wyrd in the proper sense of the word; truly uncanny and unearthly. Final track, 'At The Place Of The Skull' utilises melancholy vintage keyboard loops and drones to create an air of tension and dystopian dread before an acoustic refrain enters to add a bucolic aura, vast swarms of electric guitars then joining the procession. Finally a choir of mellotron and strings reprises the central melody, creating a truly epic conclusion.

There are more ideas on this one EP than most bands manage in their entire careers. If you haven't heard any of the previous EPs or the incredible ‘The New Dark Age’ then I urge you to do so now but first, compliments of the season, welcome the first rites of spring with ‘Drei-Ostrei’.

Available now for a small sum on bandcamp.

6 Apr 2015

Klaus Morlock "The Child Garden"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The enigmatic and elusive Klaus Morlock returns following 'The Bridmore Lodge Tapes' opus (much loved by this listener and reviewed here) with his second long player 'The Child Garden'. Based on local folklore that Morlock uncovered during his time living on the Wiltshire/ Dorset border, 'The Child Garden' refers to a cult that was active during the mid-seventies in the region, which had very probably been around since the days of the 14th century. Indeed Morlock dedicates this album to 'the strangeness that befell the West Country in the scalding summer of 1976.' Appropriately then, this a recording that affords ritual, unease, a creeping nostalgia and a uniquely British sensibility; that of knowing that there are wyrd things going on in the woodshed but appearances and stiff upper lips must be kept. And it is all the more brilliant and unnerving for this.

Opener 'Quick, Said The Bird' begins with a chorus of birdsong, the haze of a long summer luring us into a very false sense of security. A melancholy piano line plays a reoccurring motif with just a hint of menace before a choir of mellotron and vintage synth effects paint a backdrop of dread and wonder; imagine 'Children Of The Stones' set to music on a grand, orchestral scale. The atmosphere painted so expertly by Morlock certainly makes this listener think of that strange midpoint when you stay up all night between dusk and dawn; a hazy, liminal, unearthly place. Next, 'Alison Is Mine' disturbs further with its ritual drumbeats, descending piano lines and distorted dialogue. Choirs oscillate between the speakers ominously, a satanic stanza. This is what the soundtrack music to rural hell sounds like and it turns out it is very pleasing indeed. 'First Gathering' is a gentler though no less eerie piece, guitar and flute combing to create twisted acid folk of the highest order. Not unlike something you would expect from the film scores of 'Let's Scare Jessica To Death' or 'Tam Lin' this is a work filled with both fear and beauty. The traditional 'Willow Wailey' (best known as the theme from ‘The Innocents') follows, a most spooked and disembodied version of this lament. A tape recorded collection of interviewee’s recollections about the cult opens 'Testimony And Ritual', beginning with reminiscence of how beautiful the members were before descending into the terrifying refrain ' I couldn't move a muscle...I was paralysed with fear'. It is a hair on the back of the neck moment; the source of the fear is cleverly never revealed as analogue strings and synthesised chanting emerges. Affecting, chilling, beautifully and evidently carefully constructed, this is music that will appeal not only to fans of horror scores but also of psych and acid folk, of Paddy Kingsland's soundtracks to 70’s classic TV shows such as 'The Changes' and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s music from ‘The Tomorrow People’.

'Jennifer's lonely piano line and flute evokes a sense of dread perhaps best described as ‘rustic noir’; this is a paean to the terror that is felt in the wide open landscapes, the countryside that by day appears tranquil and serene but at night only needs a few lit torches to be seen on the horizon to take on an altogether different vibe. ‘At The Temple' builds on the previous track adding strings and harp before returning to the solitary first piano line to great effect. This music is possessed of a beauty and otherworldliness that is enticing and draws you in no more matter how unsettling the shadows might be. A bit, perhaps, like a cult itself. Likewise 'Second Gathering' is a gorgeous Wicker man style flute and analogue folk reel, smothered in a sense of the heady, hot summers of the past, the sun descending slowly as the robed villagers start to amass in the fields. Delicate string arpeggios fill 'Samantha's Ascension' with a beguiling air of awe and reverence before 'Over The Dead Leaves' lets its John Carpenter-esque piano lines crackle, pause for a disturbing human wail and then come crashing back with drums and buzzing strings; a heart stopping moment. Listen to this album by candlelight, it perfectly suits the ritualistic and ceremonial atmosphere that is so carefully cultivated, the sheer scope of both beauty and terror. 'Jennifer's Ascension' is next, harp and flute once more suggestive of Paul Giovanni's soundtrack of The Wicker Man, evoking the clifftop scenes of Sergeant Howie before he keeps his final, terrible appointment. Indeed, Morlock’s music is highly visual, conjuring up a myriad of bucolic images. 'Sweet Willow' sounds not unlike an ancient, long lost folk ballad (perhaps one that that Cecil Sharp missed); its heathen mood and echoes of 'Willow Wailey' ensure that it is spine chilling in the extreme. Finally, 'Goodnight Little One's mosaic of dispassionate and disturbing voices becomes a momentous and almost orchestral score of analogue keyboards, majestic and deeply moving.

After the music finishes there is a sense of 'what have I just experienced?' This album is immersive; you can lose yourself in there and might just never want to come out again. Once more, a bit like a cult itself. For magic, ceremony, tension and some of the most gorgeous instrumental music you will hear 'The Child Garden’ is a must. Folk horror it most certainly is but it is much more besides. This is a classic vintage synth recording that should have wide appeal and yet also, once again, will be perfect as a cult artefact.

Light the torch, go out amongst the corn. Wear the robes and follow the practices bestowed upon you. But make sure that this is playing as the soundtrack.

Available digitally now on bandcamp. CD available from Reverb Worship.