30 Jun 2015

Slowgold "Stjärnfall"

Reviewed by Josh Robertson

On Slowgold's second album "Stjärnfall", it's as if their sacred altar of musical improvisation is a romp down by the river with "Cortez the Killer". I'm reminded of the nonsensical front cover of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 1975 album, "Zuma" by the fact that, for me, this is a foreign language album; I'm left with the musical content and tonalities of Amanda Werne's voice to enjoy, which is kind of nice. Werne has a beautiful, trancelike voice, which doesn't come close to sounding like Neil, even if its instrumental accompaniments belie more than a slight hint. Think of Robin Trower’s devotion to Jimi Hendrix and how he subsequently filtered it through his own playing, and you may understand what I mean.

Things start off really smoked-out slow. It's "Danger Bird" territory with some Dallas Taylor drumming style shuffles. Minimalist, well chosen riffs that are definite homages to Neil Young & Old Black, his Gibson Les Paul Frankenstein guitar. If you ever thought Neil Young never did it better than songs like "Down By The River", "Danger Bird" & "Cortez the Killer", this is the album for you.

There are also late 60s Topanga lids-n-luudes instrumental adventures, big fuzzy Les Paul tones, and a Garcia/Young/Krieger influence on the tone and solos, with occasional Doorsy keys. I was reminded a bit of a few of my favorite Michigan based, organ-driven psych bands like SRC and Mystic Siva, with definite hints of David Crosby's first solo album.

The influence of Werne’s nationality comes through a bit as well, creating a cold-yet-warm vibe. This seems to be more like a lost in time album from 1972 or so, and sounds fresh and inviting, unlike what was happening to some musicians of the time who were heading downhill on various chemical and alcohol stimuli. This is a sound reminiscent of a folk-rock style which musicians perfected by 1972.

I always admire a stab at the old school West Coast psychedelic scene, which is where my tastes reside, although as I move along I find I hear this touching on a lot of other stuff too. Being from this day and age it’s a surprise to hear the authenticity and devotion these musicians conjure. Take a listen if you like Buddha induced slow guitar jams, fuzz, keys, and sweet female vocals.

Available digitally here (US), or here (UK/EU).  Buy the LP, or stream below. 

29 Jun 2015

Ecstatic Vision "Sonic Praise"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Like the record collections of Philadelphia, PA’s Ecstatic Vision must, so their debut, “Sonic Praise” – out at the end of June from Relapse Records – draws from an eclectic source. Like – you’d hope – most musicians, the band’s members were listeners before they were ever players, wading into the deeper end of ‘70’s overflowing pools: Space Rock/Krautrock, Prog, Afro-beat, Metal. And it’s apparent they were listening closely. So, whether you hear Ash Ra Tempel, Blue Cheer, Agitation Free, Motörhead, Fela Ransome-Kuti (especially his album “Zombie”), or Captain Beyond, there’s a long line of influences that has been carefully distilled into each track: poly-rhythms, forceful bass lines, guitar freak outs – and a bit of flute and sax – and madcap organ. It’s a potent concoction. While the album allows for plenty of aural freedoms, it – unlike many current heavy psych releases – feels driven, even propulsive, meticulously practiced while still feeling free. There are no stagnant moments across the debut’s five long tracks.

Rhythmically, Ecstatic Vision keeps a strong hold throughout all five, long tracks. They keep a tight, dynamic grasp on each song’s forward motion, even as everything else swirls, unbound. Bassist Michael Field Connor and percussionist Jordan Crouse lock into a hypnotic groove while guitarist/organist/vocalist Doug Sabolik strangles every lysergic drop from his guitar and leads congregants in a kind of primal chant that beseeches enlightenment. For the trio, this is a promising homage to their influences from decades past while a big stride forward for modern heavy psych.

As an opener, “Journey” is a fine introduction to Ecstatic Vision’s power, though it’s a bit friendlier than the four following tracks: spectral voices lead us unknowingly toward a heavy – well, very heavy – feint, a simple progression off set by a persistent bass line and Sabolik at the forefront – and it all sounds a bit more like Pentagram than Can. However, by the two-minute mark, it’s clear you’re in for something else as layers of effects and organ soar toward a far off lunar peak – and by album highlight, “Astral Plane,” and its carefully plotted ascending jam, we’ve even left those peaks behind.

“Sonic Praise” is available digitally, on CD or in various vinyl colors on Ecstatic Vision’s Bandcamp page (below) or as a bundle from Relapse Records. If the sampling on Bandcamp isn’t enough, the full album is streaming on Spin.

Highly Recommended.

28 Jun 2015

Thee Oh Sees "Mutilator Defeated At Last" / Damaged Bug "Cold Hot Plumbs"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It seems almost irresponsible that in my position, this is the first time I've properly sat down and listened to an album by Thee Oh Sees. You'd think that with such a prolific output, these critical darlings would have crossed my path sooner, but the truth of the matter is that I've always suspected John Dwyer's brand of visceral garage rock would be too damn noisy for my rapidly ageing, and frankly delicate sensibilities. Imagine my surprise then, when enquiring as to what was playing at a local record emporium, I had their latest album "Mutilator Defeated At Last" thrust into my waiting palm.

"Mutilator Defeated At Last" is a very fine record. It's often every bit as loud as I suspected, but it's much more intelligent than I anticipated, adding layers of complexity without losing its visceral edge. A number of these songs, although memorably penned and in possession of beguiling melodies, seem to have been conjured into existence almost solely as an excuse for Dwyer to shower the listener in molten runs of ferocious, reverb-laden guitar shredding, which he releases with ferocious intensity.

And while Dwyer losing his shit is reason enough to dig into and savour "Mutilator Defeated At Last", there's another side to the story too, with a more exploratory set of mid paced songs that weave a spacey, progressive rock element into their already rich garage tapestry. Opener, "Web", is a gargantuan beast of a thing, the aural equivalent of navigating an asteroid field at full speed, but nowhere is Dwyer's new progressive leaning more pronounced than the eerie, organ-led "Sticky Hulks", which suggests a Pink Floyd that managed to keep Syd in its ranks for a few extra years.

I'm won over then, and the nearly simultaneous release of the second album from Dwyer's synth-based side-project Damaged Bug is bafflingly, every bit as good. I was expecting a similar kind of thing to his day-job, with synths where the guitars otherwise would be, but Dwyer is a much more multi-facetted individual than I originally gave him credit for. "Cold Hot Plumbs" is a much more psychedelic, pop-oriented affair, allowing Dwyer to find an outlet for a less aggressive side of his output. The off-kilter pop of Eno's early solo albums and the first side of Bowie's "Low" seem to be the dominant influences, but there's a shiny psych-pop sheen here which sits favourably with the likes of UMO and Opossom too. It's consistently engaging, with live drumming creating a great, heavy juxtaposition against the layers of keyboards and sequencers, really helping to bring these songs to life. And great songs they are too, with hooks everywhere. It may be a side project, but it's not laboured with typical side project material, providing instead a fascinating glimpse of an alternate route that Dwyer could have taken, had he not heeded the call of the garage.

Most artists would be happy to release one album as good as either of these every couple of years.

You need both of these albums in your life.

"Mutilator Defeated At Last" is available on CD here (UK/EU), and here (US), and on vinyl here (UK/EU), and here (US).
"Cold Hot Plumbs" is available on CD here (UK/EU), and here (US), and on vinyl here (UK/EU), and here (US).

Nick Grey And The Random Orchestra "Breaker of Ships"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Berlin based chaunter Nick Grey is a name that may well be known to many readers, from his work with 48 Cameras, his superb releases with The Random Orchestra (see last year's incredible ‘You’re Mine again’', reviewed here at The Active Listener) and his solo work, not least ‘Thieves Among Thorns’ which this listener counts amongst his all-time favourite albums. One of the most inventive and truly heartbreaking musicians at work today it is almost impossible to find reasonable comparison but as a reference for intrigued or curious uninitiated think Scott Walker meets Coil meets Robert Wyatt. And yet also so much more; think of a reference point and Grey will already have moved on in his search for the perfect midnight song.

‘Breaker Of Ships' takes a different path from the romantic, glam inflected electronic anthems of 'You’re Mine Again' into sometimes colder, electronic territory but still with the tangible heartbreak and tension that Grey is a master of. This aspect is clearly present as is the melancholic candlelit baroque tapestry that often adorns his work. The title track opens the album, electronic beats and cello merging with ominous string sweeps to create an atmosphere of late night existential dread and poignant reflection. Grey's vocals evoke both Scott Walker and Berlin period Bowie, swathes of treated guitar crashing around his words before calm returns as Grey intones 'there's a blackness hanging low among us'. The mood turns to hope as the singer proclaims his exit, his leaving from whatever painful place he was caught in. The track shifts again (it is an epic 11 minutes long) into analogue soundwaves, organ and chiming guitar notes with Grey’s falsetto reminding this listener of some of the most beautiful and otherworldly moments of Sigur Ros. This is music for the liminal times; the dusk or the dawn. A chorus of guitars approaches and grows, ratcheting the intensity up and taking the song in yet another emotive pathway. So far, so heartrending, uplifting and eerie, all within the very first track.

'Of Ghosts And Women' is an electronic symphony, swathes of strings and arpeggios framing Grey's Brel-like performance of post break up bitterness, melancholy and grace dripping off every chiming guitar note and analogue bleep and whirr. Haunted and yet dignified, the music steps into the hinterlands of classic synth pop and the spectral nightlands of ‘Music To Play In The Dark’ Coil and the output of the Ghost Box label. Next, ‘The Archivist' switches pace into a doomed guitar and violin lament that recalls Grey's earlier nocturnal EP 'The Candlelit Eyes', the protagonist observing human life and lovers dispassionately and coldly as they go about their various tragedies. A tense and ringing vintage synth echoes like a warning siren as Grey adds drama and a twisted narrative; this is a mini electronica opera. 'Vanisher' maintains the acoustic, late night feel, organ sounding a lonely motif as Grey is 'waiting for the end, down in my bunker'. Utterly evocative and with a touch of Floyd in the Gilmour-esque guitars, this is essential for any lovers of the afore mentioned Scott Walker, John Foxx, latter day Ulver, Tiger Lilies and perhaps Nick Cave. There is often a dark cabaret feel to this album, candles flickering on tables amongst an audience of the broken hearted and lonely.

'Juliet Of The Spirits' is a thing of beauty, insistent guitar merging with the echoing drone of a singing bowl and a slow snare beat; there are ghosts in this music, the wraith like choir that sings throughout adding a genuine sense of sadness and longing. Bass propels the follow up 'Juliet Of The Bones' into almost King Crimson prog territory (which is a good thing in my book), ragged and ferocious guitar duelling with clarinet in a truly thrilling piece of experimental noise. Then, the Juliet of the previous song returns, the quiet and stately guitar line and hushed drums introducing Grey's return. Grey's vocals deserve special mention; he is living these songs, his performance nuanced, heartbreaking and emotive. Gradually Juliet disappears in a fog of white noise as the song draws to a close, the distant sound of an echoing male voice shrouded in the mist. Final track proper 'Ghost Rain' takes a spoken word sample from Peter Wollen, recounting the plight of animals suffering at the hands of humans and with a plea to see their pain as no different than our own. This is framed beautifully by symphonic strings and the sound of rain.

One is almost left breathless after hearing this album; it feels like witnessing an epic storyline from beginning to end, there is a sense of having been a part of or an audience to something very special indeed. Or, quite simply, of hearing a true artist at the peak of his song writing and performing powers. And there is more. The bonus track is a mix of Nick Grey and 48 Cameras 'Here He Comes Now' by electronic artist Scanner (last seen performing an electronic tribute to Joy Division live with a full orchestra). It fits perfectly with the mood of the album overall, dark, almost noir-ish and with a hint of dread and danger.

If you haven't yet experienced Nick Grey then any album is a useful starting point as they are all highly recommended and have their own trove of dark, hidden jewels. However, 'Breaker Of Ships' is as near perfect an album as you will hear and I would urge you to seek this out.

Available below on CD with digisleeve, vinyl (with download code) and as a digital download.

26 Jun 2015

The Smoking Trees "TST"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Lovers of feel-good psychedelic pop can now relax, safe in the knowledge that they're now reading about their favourite album of the year. Ample Play have a new album for us from L.A bubblegum-psych duo the Smoking Trees, and it's a right corker.

The duo of Martin Nunez and L.A Al have been hard at work conquering the UK since their last release, 2012's "Acetates", with appearances in NME and on the BBC, but they've still somehow found the time to record well over a hundred songs as potential candidates for "Acetate"s follow-up. Whittled down to the twelve choicest nuggets from these productive sessions, we have "TST", an absolute treasure which does everything the Smoking Trees have become known for, but in an even more refined fashion than previously.

Much has been made of the duo's background in hip-hop, and opener "Good Morning" certainly pulls a few tricks learned in that trade, with its effortless synthesis of samples and baroque psychedelia setting the bar high for what is to follow.

And what follows is a master-class in classic pop songcraft, run through the duo's unmistakeable psychedelic pop production. It's certainly a case of 'if it's not broken, don't fix it', but they also seem to have made a conscious decision to do it better than they've ever done it before. And they do so with ease, refining the essence of their sound while offering up the best songs they've written so far - "She Takes Flight With Me", "Home in the Morning", "Island of Adventure", "Trips" - gems all.

The heavily treated vocals, and ever-present reverb and echo are incredibly distinctive, and make the whole feel like one long piece over the first few listens. But subsequent listens allow the insidious hooks to sneak up on the listener, and before too long it becomes clear that the full-on production that initially obscured those hooks, heightens the return visitor's enjoyment of them tenfold in the long run.

The Smoking Trees really do know what's best for you. Don't fight it, just lay back, and let "TST" wash over you. You'll be glad you did.

Available on vinyl here (UK/EU), and here (US), and digitally here (UK/EU), and here (US).

25 Jun 2015

Triptides Premiere First Track From New Album "Azur"

Indiana's Triptides have relocated to Los Angeles, and their excellent fourth album "Azur" (which you will hear more about here soon) reflects this move perfectly.

From the press release: "Their shiny, hazy songs are perfect anthems for a nascent summer. This collection explores the spectrum of sensations you can feel on a hot day. From lazyness to happiness it's a trip without moving in California."

"Azur" will be released on Requiem Pour Un Twister Records on July 10, and today we're premiering one of the album's best tracks "Dark Side", which you can stream exclusively below. Enjoy!

Left Lane Cruiser "Dirty Spliff Blues"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

After ten years of playing as a duo, Left Lane Cruiser has added a third member for their sixth album, “Dirty Spliff Blues” from Alive Naturalsound Records. The Fort Wayne, IN group’s latest is about what you expect from them after a decade’s worth of records – duo or trio. That is, for those familiar with them: punk blues songs that draw from the Mississippi delta and sweat swagger. For those unfamiliar, while it doesn’t quite reveal the depth of these tracks, a lot can be assumed from the cover art (by William Stout), album’s name – and the band’s name, for that matter. This one’s for those looking for gritty guitar riffs – or “skateboard slide guitar” too.

“Elephant Stomp” is an album highlight. It saunters through a rock riff that channels Southern heat; it’s bluesy and a bit messy in all the right ways. And “Whitebread n’ Beans,” which follows, doesn’t let that humidity drop at all. It all builds to a wild slide guitar solo on “Tangled Up in a Bush,” which closes a very strong passage of the album – which is not to say they slow it down at all through the remainder. It’d be too easy to call this rock n’ roll because there are enough oddities to throw anyone off; either way, it’s a fun ride at full speed.

This is a very strong release from a well-respected band, who have continually gathered fans over the years – as well as a song slot on “Breaking Bad.” No doubt “Dirty Spliff Blues” will garner them a few new ones. For this listener, it took a few listens to really dig into these tracks, for the simplicity of the songs is a bit misleading, but sonically there’s some real depth – and certainly a lot of energy.

It’s out now on Alive Naturalsound Records, available digitally from iTunes and on CD or limited edition starburst vinyl (link below, where you can find most of their back catalogue too). They started their tour earlier this month too; find them live, if even a fraction of their frenetic presence has been captured here.

Available on CD here (UK/EU), or here (US),  or on vinyl (UK/EU), or here (US).

24 Jun 2015

Tashaki Miyaki "Under Cover Vol. II"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

L.A trio Tashaki Miyaki write some very fine originals, but they're also dab hands (does that even work as a plural?) at reinterpreting the work of others, and making it their own. 2012's "Under Cover" (available here as a free download) had some great moments, with classic tracks by the likes of Sam Cooke, Father John Misty, Bob Dylan, and Inxs passing through the distinctive Tashaki Miyaki filter, and emerging on the other side as lovely slabs of dream-pop bliss. Yum.

"More!" we demanded, and more we got. "Under Cover Vol. II" continues the trend, and is every bit as good as its predecessor. TM have an innate ability to choose material that translates perfectly to their sound, and the choices are inspired, and not the odd bedfellows they would seem to be on paper. Made up predominantly of classic rock/pop, soul gems and eighties epics, anything it would seem, is game.

The term dream-pop tends to be a bit oversubscribed these days, but TM well and truly do it justice. The two best tracks here both dial the tempo back to a snail's pace, allowing Lucy's vocals all the time in the world to cast their sleepy spell. "I Only Have Eyes For You" is the aural equivalent of a steaming hot bubblebath, while their reinvention of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" unabashedly replaces bombast with the sultry, to great effect.

Elsewhere, "I Can't Stand The Rain", and Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" prove that they have the depth to tackle more soulful material without stumbling, and Ray Davies' "This Time Tomorrow" is always a joy.

"Under Cover Vol. II" is a rare thing - a covers collection which noticeably highlights the strengths of the performers, rather than the writers. And it's available through the link below as a free/name your price download. And while you're there, check out some of their own material. Big things are on the way for these three, I'm sure.

King Biscuit Entertainers "Northwest Unreleased Masters, 1967-1970"

Reviewed by Josh Robertson

I was quite excited when I was given the chance to review some of Guerssen's June releases as they have a habit of unleashing some hidden gems that I've missed over the years. This is certainly the case with King Biscuit Entertainers, who serve up a nice set of late 60s garage/psych rock here on the Out-sider label imprint. The Entertainers were a Pacific Northwest band active from 1968 to 1971, who released some 45's in the late 60s. This release definitely sheds some light on a very fertile scene, and King Biscuit had to be up there with the best of them at the time.

Let me start off by saying what great threads the band have. The cover features them in all their late 60s majesty. They were dressed to kill, and as they were primarily known as a live band at the time, I'm sure this only added to their blistering sets. The style of the Biscuit’s music is of its period, more than hinting at an Iron Butterfly/Vanilla Fudge style - soul, soaked in psychedelic syrup. A highlight of the group is its rhythm section, which was very tight with an outstanding bassist who has some experimental, fuzzy, overdriven tones. And I’d hate to forget to mention the romping stomping Corky Laing/Carmine Appice drumming which makes for a seat-of-your-pants R'n'B psych ride.

There's some very tasty Hammond B-3 sounds on here that entwine nicely with the sounds of the rest of the band, making it a must for organ-driven rock fans, as well as fans of Fender tones. The album gets off to a great start with “Take Me to Chicago” with a catchy 60s Box Tops / Mamas and Papas vibe with ringing, Byrdsy Rickenbacker guitar. I’m sure this song could have gotten airplay at the time. “Now Baby I Love You” was released as a 45 in 1968 and is an absolute killer, with fuzz-bass and a bluesy strut where the instruments drop out periodically to highlight the vocals.

The band was more than another average Iron Butterfly knockoff, and there’s some infectious Beatles and Nazz Anglo-pop moves to go with the R'n'B and blues riffs. On songs like "Rollin' Free Man” there’s a Deep Purple style chug and intensity, which sounds like a precursor to the sound Captain Beyond was streamlining a few years later in the early 70s.

The guitarist leans on the heavy-impact octave riffs and the drums sound huge. "Rosemary's Second Child" brings out a slower, bluesy, late-night deviant atmosphere. But of course the Biscuit pumps up the beat and there is an intense middle section with some tricked out crunchy rambling lead. “Judgement (Look Up And Get Ready)” has some great background vocals with a falsetto that, mixed as it is, sounds like female background singers, which is kind of cool. There are also some guitar harmonies that, for this period, show these guys had serious chops. Only one track was recorded in 1970, the rest are from '68 mostly, with two '67 cuts (one from a 45 release).

King Biscuit Entertainers only had three singles out in the 1960s which are very difficult to obtain in a physical format now, aso this is a very important document, which shows a great band in a very storied transition period between the psychedelic boom and the shift to early-70s hard rock from soul and pop. There are noo real philosophical or mind-benders here, more the onslaught of a group of guys who were screaming to break into the next decade as a classic hard rock act. Fans of organ and guitar interplay will want to give this a listen, as well as fans of Trapeze, Armageddon, and Deep Purple.

Available here (US), or directly from the label here in Europe.

23 Jun 2015

Moth Rah "Wild Wedding"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Londoner Cassandra Solon Parry (that's Moth Rah to you) does something on her new E.P "Wild Wedding" which I've heard many attempt, but few succeed at. On paper, Hauntology and folk music make perfect bedfellows, but try and combine them musically, and more often than not the results are clunky, and just not quite right.

"Wild Wedding" manages to tread this treacherous path deftly however, combining Parry's distinctive, classically folk-infused vocal tones with arrangements which strike a fine balance between the spookily Wicker Manesque, mystical fairy ring incantations and Radiophonic ritual - all things that we're rather fond of here.

It's a moody wee item, with Parry's vocal duet with Ian Williams on "To The Lake" providing some spine-tingling moments, but it's the depth of the musical arrangements that really take it to the next level, particularly on the moody synth embellishments found on "The Elder Tree" and the unstreamable closer "Song of the Dreamer", both of which sound like they'd be riveting Radiophonic workouts even in an instrumental format; add Parry's chilling vocals and you've got something very special indeed.

CD and digital available here:

22 Jun 2015

Serpent Power "Serpent Power"

Reviewed by Tom Sandford

After the release of his mainly DIY, neo-psychedelic tour de force "Cut From a Star" – and first album unanchored from The Coral – Ian Skelly seemed poised for a major solo breakthrough. The 2012 project – lovingly crafted over a 10-year period and featuring Skelly’s vivid, image-driven songs and distinctive cover artwork – was released through the band’s Skeleton Key label to uniformly rave reviews. When Skeleton Key found themselves quickly relieved of vinyl/CD hard copies during the early stages of the album’s initial run, they took the rather bold step of releasing a 2-CD deluxe version of the album in 2013.

Featuring live acoustic versions of six "Cut From a Star" songs and credited to Ian Skelly and the Serpent Power, the second disc seems to have been, in retrospect, designed both as reinforcement of the solo record and introduction of a new backing band. Somewhere along the line, however, Skelly decided to set aside his promising solo career to join forces with Paul Molloy, formerly of the Zutons, to form a formidable Scouse-psych supergroup of sorts, Serpent Power.

Serpent Power is not "Cut From a Star" mk 2.0, although it maintains many of its most endearing hallmarks: Skelly’s penchant for eerie, dark psychedelia and wild imagery is well represented here, both in the music and cover artwork. The cover itself is an intrinsic part of the package. Our heroes are drawn amidst an assortment of grotesque, amusingly macabre comic-book ghouls, such as an eight-eyed bass drum (its mouth agape); a smiling, pointy-eared vampire; and a giant-footed zombie flashing a peace sign. It’s the kind of cover at which you can repeatedly stare and discover something new each time. It’s also a perfect introduction/complement to the music. So prepare yourself: you’re going deep inside the imaginations of Messrs. Skelly and Molloy.

The trio of songs that forms the opening salvo (“Dr. Lovecrafts’s Asylum”/“The Man Who Shrunk the World”/“Lucifer’s Dreambox”) should, from the titles alone, give some indication of what you can expect. Once inside this Serpent Powered world, one is transported into a house of benign aural horrors: there’s an onslaught of creepy organ passages, backwards loops, hypnotic drumming, phased instrumentation and liberal doses of Theremin. The extended coda appended to “Lucifer’s Dreambox” is a particularly sinister-sounding non sequitur.

The fourth song, “Candyman”, hints at a stylistic shift to a jauntier tone. Imagine if John Lennon had demanded to sing “Your Mother Should Know” and you’ll get the picture. The result is both fanciful and unsettling. Similarly, “Life is a Ball” is a pulsing, McCartneyesque music hall stomper whose whimsy is undercut by some chilling Old West-saloon style piano.

The mood of "Cut From a Star" is recalled with “The Siren” in which Baroque-pop elements of "Village Green" era Kinks are mixed with typically Coral-esque chord changes. Speaking of the Coral, brother James Skelly contributes the pleasant “Just a Broken Heart”, which is, for lack of a better term, the most conventional-sounding track of the lot. Other highlights include “Vampire For Your Love”, which sounds like the mawkish love theme from a goofy horror flick, and “Last Ape in Space”, a song propelled by thudding drum rolls and loping harmonies. “The Vision” ends the album on a suitably ominous, unsettling note. It’s gently insistent beat conveys an air of parting amid a somber soundscape – one that goes to fade far too soon.

Whether this is a one-off, stopgap release for Skelly and Molloy, or the beginning of a beautiful new musical partnership over the long haul, the debut album from Serpent Power bodes well for both.

Available on CD here (UK/EU/US), and vinyl here (UK/EU), or here (US).

19 Jun 2015

ODAWAS "Black Harmony"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Longtime duo Odawas released their latest, “Black Harmony,” early this past May via Parisian label Bookmaker Records. Last years’ “Reflections of a Pink Laser” (reviewed here) continued their long running partnership, coining a peculiar brand of Americana / lush, Kosmiche soundscape hybridity.

According to Isaac Edwards (half of Odawas), “Black Harmony” filters personal hardships through a fantastical lens, lending an emotional aspect to some purposefully odd “narratives” – as well as the arrangements – “about star-crossed soldiers finding perfection in the desert, Prohibition-era murder and espionage, crime scene investigations in pastoral meadows, and finding comfort in the hallucinatory madness of Nebraska.” Partnered with singer and songwriter Michael Tapscott, the two masterfully blend Americana folk with dense, cinematic soundscapes that lend galactic portent to the very American stories told through their songs. And they’ve been doing so for a long time: since forming in Bloomington, Indiana in 2003, the two have released several records with Jagjaguwar Records before moving to Parisian label Bookmaker Records in 2014. If you’re struggling to grasp their sound, Tapscott and Edwards channel a sort of lo-fi maximalism – at least for this listening recalling the best tracks from the Flaming Lips, the Magnetic Fields or early Grandaddy. The songs are straightforward in structure, but, in execution, they could have taken any form; whatever was expected of them, Odawas chose the other path.

“Christiantown” opens with banjo, baroque orchestration and reversed sounds. From there, the satirical pastiche builds, providing Edwards plenty of space to add his otherworldly ambience. Yet there’s still a memorable verse chorus & verse that’s almost cheery, despite the litany of images such as “Long haired women doing drugs in the kitchen […] / Boozing under bridges […] / It’s hard to get around, it’s hard to get around, it’s hard to get around, but you gotta get around in Christiantown.”

Through the record, you’ll find a few instrumental breaks. “The Stevedore” and “Ambient” bring to their respective sides of the album some welcome aural weirdness, full of swirling synths and layered vocal sampling or rural sampling. “Duck, You Fucker” introduces what may be yet another genre into the mix, something very much like spaghetti electronica, sounding both like a whip snap and a UFO sighting.

With a few friends joining them this time around, Tapscott and Edwards have created another installment of hazy, psychedelic folk that somehow wrangles both Klaus Schulze and Neil Young into the same beer-can-littered apartment with a view. The rent’s late and there’s no electricity, but Odawas taps into something beyond the narrative cycle of failure, channeling some grand potential from the smallest – and darkest – corners of life.

“Black Harmony” is available below in digital formats or limited edition cassette from Bookmaker Records.

It took a few listens, but I think that’s the point and the sign of a great album.

Highly recommended.

18 Jun 2015

"Krautrock - Original Album Series"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

There seems to be some confusion as to what exactly Krautrock is, but one thing is for sure, four of the five albums contained within this new "Original Album Series" don't fit even its broadest definition. While all five albums featured her are the work of German rock bands, none but La Düsseldorf 's essential "Viva" (of which plenty has already been written) really fit under the broad Krautrock umbrella. That little (OK, major) hurdle aside though, this is an excellent set of hard to find albums at a ridiculously cheap price, which I thoroughly recommend, so long as you know what to expect.

"Viva" is a classic of course, the second album from Klaus Dinger's La Düsseldorf, formed after the break up of Neu! It should be one of the first Krautrock albums on your shopping list if you're just starting to investigate, especially if motoric drumming is your thing.

The other four albums here offer a slightly haphazard, but rewarding glimpse of what else was happening in the German underground of the early seventies. Gift were a short lived heavy rock outfit, originally known as "Phallus Dei", and with ties to Subject Esq. and Sahara. Their self titled debut is an above average heavy rock album, with a proto prog vibe that sounds a lot like the music that was coming out of the U.K a year or two earlier - it wouldn't sound out of place on the Vertigo label. There's lots of dual guitar riffing, occasional mellow flute passages, and some appealing scat vocals from Dieter Atterer, who avoids the macho vocal stylings which have dated the music of a lot of the band's contemporaries.

Lucifer's Friend released a number of albums under various names before their own debut, and the self titled album by Asterix is one of these. Kicking off with both sides of an excellent pre-album single which sounds a lot like Traffic, the album proper then starts, with John Lawton taking over on vocals, and the seeds of Lucifer's Friend's start to germinate. There's not much organ work at this point, but otherwise fans of LF will find this a very interesting listen.

Message's third, self-titled album is up next, and while not as interesting as the lengthy space-rock opus which preceded it ("From Books and Dreams"), it's much more interesting than it's detractors would have you believe. It's certainly a bit more smooth, with a prog-jazz tinge that hints at Canterbury, but also favourably compares to Gravy Train's underrated last two albums. And the guitar of Allan Murdoch is frequently inspired, especially on "Waters", the highlight here, with Murdoch's multi tracked guitar solo being a complete mind-melter.

Last, and certainly not least is Parzival's "Legend". Produced by Krautrock legend Conny Plank, "Legend" is a strangely coherent mixture of a number of different underground elements. The songs sound rooted in UK psych-pop, but the instrumentation has much more of a baroque-folk approach, with heaps of flute, violin, cello and the like. The songs are compact, uniformly excellent little creations, but best of all is the side long "Groove Inside", an astounding jam with outbursts of extraordinary, lysergically treated flute.

So, a case of poor marketing for sure, but an excellent selection of albums nonetheless, and at five for the price of less than one, you'd be silly to not grab this one.

Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

17 Jun 2015

Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapour "Desert Brain"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

What I immediately noticed listening to the latest – “Desert Brain” – from Detroit’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor was their willingness and often penchant for dissonance in their songs. Opening track, “Seventh Scene,” certainly allows for a few surprises in the chord progression, which otherwise slinks along under blankets of reverb and delay.

Though they’ve labeled themselves “garage psych,” there is more experimentation throughout the album than one would expect from those tags. Of course, there are driving guitar riffs – as well as a warm lo-fi feel – but there’s also eclectic rhythms, meandering organs, and soaring guitar leads that don’t fit as nicely in those genres – at least not upon hearing the way they’ve done it. Press material claims the band wanted to create “a shifting moodscape [rather] than [a] collection of individual songs.” And so we’re given a wholly fresh bit of garage rock than looks behind the walls and far, far out there.

See here for proof: “What’s Your Cloud Nine, 37?” begins as a slow guitar based instrumental, then somehow builds to a dense cloud of feedback and reverberating noise that gives way to the epic “Mother’s Magic Tongue / A Little Jaunt into the Light.” Here, shard-like guitars wrangle delay into a solid riff that drops like a hammer every time it comes around. Relief comes briefly before the second half: a slightly off-kilter guitar lead that’s eventually lost amidst noise again – and still there’s room for ambient field recordings at the tail of it all: cars honking, plunking pianos etc.

Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor are currently touring Spain and Greece before returning for a show in Indiana and another in Ohio. My guess is they’ll be adding more shows to support. Keep an eye out for them. In the meantime, you can stream the new album at their Bandcamp page or buy below on clear and aqua splattered vinyl, CD-R or download (at your own price). All available now.

Highly Recommended.

The Parson Red Heads "In a Hazy Dream (Retrospective 2004-2014)"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Our prime directive here at the Active Listener is exposing you to bands whose audience is only a fraction of the size that it should be. And Portland quartet the Parson Red Heads may well be the epitome of the 'under-appreciated band'. Sure, they've got fans (and anyone who hears their music tends to become one of these), but this is a band who should be reaching millions, not thousands of listeners.

The Byrds meet Big Star, with a healthy dose of the Jayhawks on these exquisite country-pop gems. There are certainly correllations to be made between the Parson Red Heads, and another band beloved of Active Listener readers - the Young Sinclairs. Both channel vintage influences into fresh, timeless songs, which are more than the sum of their influences.

Their albums have been produced by the likes of Mitch Easter (early R.E.M producer), Chris Stamey (The dBs), and Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5), and there's a very simple reason that this trio of jangle kings have been involved; the Parson Red Heads' Evan Way writes absolutely knock-your-socks-off songs, and sings them with total conviction. "Seven Years Ago" effortlessly brushes aside anything by much more high profile heartbreak-country-janglers like Band of Horses.

While not serving as a suitable substitute for their albums (which are all frankly essential), this well chosen collection is a welcome opportunity for the masses to have their eyes and ears opened to some of the best, most heartfelt songs of the last ten years. And for fans, it'll be the first opportunity to hear a number of these songs on vinyl - including a genreous selection of songs from their hard to find E.Ps.

Available here (EU/UK) and here (US) - their back catalogue can be found here.

16 Jun 2015

Sabbatis "Warning in the Sky"

Reviewed by Josh Robertson

Guerssen label imprint Out-sider has a new entry in their excellent catalog of lost classics and rare material from the best quality sources. Sabbatis’s “Warning in the Sky” is an unreleased (until 2011!) 1970 hard rock slab featuring a foreboding name. One may immediately draw comparisons to Black Sabbath, but it's actually less Sabbath-y than a lot of records in this vein. The band was formed in New York in 1968; I'm always excited to see amazing groups that I have not heard from this era. Out-sider is giving these lost treasures the right treatment, from top notch cover design and liners to pristine remastered sound. Let’s see what the band had to offer in the brief period that they were active.

To start, this band's forte is primarily instrumental, and these songs are built upon swinging roadhouse riffs (Gibson SG3 triple-hum bucker and Marshall double-stack) accompanied by quick, tight, Euro-prog riffs. The band couldn't wait to get through the verses to jam the songs out, and I’m sure these guys were great live. The focus is mainly on instrumental excursions, which this album delivers in spades if you are a fan of old-school riff rock. There's a strong British progressive touch as well as a minor-key gothic vibe that does their name justice. The bluesy vocals remind me particularly of Mike Pinera (Blues Image/Iron Butterfly).

"Everyday Is Cool" has that familiar upbeat 70s vibe, and strangely I hear catchiness along the same lines as “Feels Like The First Time” by Foreigner in the main riff (more on that connection later!) "Crystal Mirror" also has with a classic roadhouse bluesy riff which just reeks mojo. "GREEN GLASS AND ALL THAT JAZZ" has some excellent lead playing and tone, and an 'open-road cruising-in-the-Barracuda' feel. There's also a darker side to it all, and the mournful "The Devil’s In You" starts off once again with drums in full ride cymbal/ jazzy snare top gear mode, with an infectious riff and some nice minor key soloing. Side two features the more acoustic/folkie stuff, and "Conversation with Billy" does a nice job of showing the group's softer side. There’s all sorts of interesting changes, with professional musicianship which make this much more than a drugged-out hazy jam, like Phafner or the Estes Brothers.

All of the songs on the album were recorded in 1970 in a home studio in hopes of landing a record contract. They would lay unreleased until 2011 when a copy of the 1/4 reel turned up. As I've not heard the 2011 initial release of this CD, I can only judge from Outsider's excellent remastering job that this is a quite professional sounding production, which is no surprise as the band gathered funds to get their friend Nathan "Mick" Guzauski who is now a multi-platinum Mixing Engineer and Sound Engineer. He did pickup engineering work with a few now-well-known musicians early on in his career, including Lou Gramm, later of Foreigner (remember how I mentioned them earlier? There are no coincidences). It’s no surprise that there was an ace behind the boards for this. It sounds better than lot of private press/obscure hard rock albums in terms of fidelity at least, making it a good choice for people wary about needle drops, bad EQ or noise reduction.

I suggest this for fans of Leaf Hound, Grand Funk, Mountain, and fans of Mike Pinera's stints in Blues Image and Iron Butterfly. Also, Hammond B-3 fanatics who like extended improvisations featuring the instrument will find a real gem, as it offers up some low-mid gritty tones ala Jon Lord or Mystic Siva. There are no hardcore revelations here, but "Warning in the Sky" shows a super tight band with the right image poised for a breakthrough. Sabbatis had a lot of strong suits and were excellent musicians, and it's a shame this tape didn't wind them up in the record bins….until now, where it will get the exposure it deserves.

 Get it here.

"Revolution - The Shoegaze Revival"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's old news that we're in the midst of a shoegaze revival right? But while the mainstream music press focuses on the big names of old reforming (which certainly is a cause for celebration), many of the indies and blogs seem to be having trouble deciding exactly what they think of the whole situation. Some accuse the revival of having nothing new to offer. Others struggle to consolidate the genre tag with what they're hearing described as shoegaze these days. What many people find hard to accept is that shoegaze is no longer the surly teenager of the music world who refuses to meet your eye. Shoegaze has grown up, and as it's evolved it's opened it's arms to other, complimentary influences.

This mammoth new 30 track collection, curated by Ear to Ear Records and Gerpfast Kolektif, may be the best tool at the revival's disposal to hammer this point home, featuring artists from 16 different countries - this is a truly global phenomenon - all operating under the ever-expanding shoegaze umbrella. And while there are certainly traces of the influence of the genre's trailblazers, this is far from hollow imitation of a bygone era, with a diversity which shows just how much potential the genre has to grow now that it can see past its own fringe.

So aside from the massive guitars and reverb-sodden layers of vocals that one traditionally associates with shoegaze, you'll also find wistful dreampop, neo-psychedelia, post-rock, traces of 4AD that run the spectrum from This Mortal Coil to the Pixies, and in Clustersun's excellent "Hipgnosis" there's even an unlikely Pink Floyd tribute, which is an absolute stunner.

The curators have been careful to avoid covers in their desire to demonstrate that this is a vibrant scene all of its own, and the quality and diversity on display here is unmistakeable. Detractors will be eating their hats, while the rest of us can simply enjoy a superlative collection, on a free/name your own price basis. This collection, fully deserving of its definitive title, should be your first step to understanding, and immersing yourself in the shoegaze revival. Get it here:

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger "GOASTT Stories"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Since 2008 The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – stage moniker for duo Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl – have been home brewing through their own label Chimera Music a varied brand of fun loving, theatrical psychedelic pop, inspired in part by the rock of the ‘60s, French yé-yé, and gypsy folk – among other things. Following up their official debut, “Midnight Sun,” “GOASTT Stories” adds four more to their catalogue, this time taking, to my ear, a lighter tone than their debut, which had some raucousness and unrest to it. “GOASSTT Stories,” however, continues to showcase Lennon and Muhl’s penchant for off kilter melody and beautiful – and often eerie – harmony.

“India” is the stand out track here for me. It’s atmospherically lush while maintaining a relatively straightforward instrumentation: acoustic guitar, organ, bass, while still allowing for eclectic percussion. Muhl and Lennon’s vocal interplay is at its best here. It concludes with a soulful blast of organ madness that recalls the more hectic parts of “Midnight Sun.”

As a whole, the EP ushers listeners toward perhaps a more complete view of the duo’s potential, taking on a few new sounds and leaving others behind in their debut. “Pierrot,” for example, has a middle era Pink Floyd inspired airiness to it that leaves room for some of the most interesting song structure on the EP, while “Richard Brown” closes it off with – after an ornamental piano intro – a bit of burlesque comedy, which we only got glimpses of in their earlier work.

It’s likely difficult for anyone to hear Sean Lennon’s music without considering it within the context of his father’s music. And, at times, the vocal quality, melodic choices, and songwriting are uncanny, but Lennon’s work is in many ways more eclectic, pulling even more so than the Beatles or John Lennon’s solo work from various corners of the world, which may only be a product of the modern era, communication, technology etc. Whatever it is, Lennon and Muhl have produced another polished collection of songs that sway with ‘60s era dreaminess and passion.

Available on vinyl here (US), and here (UK/EU).

15 Jun 2015

Trabants "FREAKOUT"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

L.A's Trabants (pronounced TRUH-BONTS) could so easily be just another garage/surf revival group, but "FREAKOUT" is a great example of a band not letting ties to a very specific genre limit their sound.

Formed as a side project by Eric Penna (singer/guitarist of Boston band Ketman), the idea was to feature a rotating line-up playing obscure instrumentals from an assortment of little-known surf and library music records from around the world. Several albums later, Trabants have well and truly trascended this mission statement , and are now making some of the most enjoyable and exotic originals that we've heard in a long time.

Penna mixes the staples of vintage surf - propulsive drums, heavily reverbed and tremeloed guitars - with more exotic elements, some of which are well proven to work in this context (mariachi brass), and others of which are absolutely inspired; Penna's lead instrument of choice is the sitar, a distinctive point of difference which he absolutely nails. It's especially effective on slower, moodier tracks like "Mazar", while the sitar work on "Mecca" plunders the same Eastern scales as "Misirlou" to great effect.

It's a well paced, varied album too, with stomping garage rockers like "White Fire" rubbing shoulders with the more laid back, loungy numbers. The production is period-perfect and fab too; if I'd been told that this had been recorded in the mid sixties, the only reason I wouldn't believe it, would be because this is much too good to be an artifact of those times and not have an enormous cult following.

Absolutely essential.

CD and digital both available directly from the band here:

Alex Monk "Fragments Of Lost Rivers"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Musician and composer Alex Monk has created a small but beautiful body of work focusing on sound and song as a means to evoke particular moods and memories using both electronics and organic instrumentation, often manipulating or using the voice as an instrument in itself. His new release, 'Fragments of Lost Rivers', is a part of a multi media project, the audio element of a installation piece of sound, film and sculptural forms that will ultimately contain ceramic fragments creating a labyrinth or maze. Monk writes that 'the work raises issues of our environment and the significance that nature has in informing and symbolizing our mythic understanding of our lives. It looks at questions of how we treat the earth and particularly the water upon which we all so deeply depend.' Using field recordings of rivers from as far apart as the Thames in Monk's native London and the Phong Nha cave in Vietnam, this is a very special and heartfelt album indeed; a document of natural beauty and surging life force in both rural and urban settings. Reminiscent of singer Rob St. John's 'Water Of Life' project in its musical intention to convey the elements of nature through sound, this is a work that is thought provoking, sensual and, quite frankly, essential listening.

The piece begins with birdsong and the sound of a river flowing, a rustic gentleness which then merges into a delicate acoustic guitar melody filled with both wistful melancholy and warm nostalgia. The notes are crystalline, passing by like the water that inspired the work; timeless and endless. This is not ambient music however but music for the foreground, to focus on and immerse yourself in. As this segment fades into the ether, keyboards enter alongside windchimes and harmonised vocals, reminding this listener of some of the mood soundscapes of Nick Grey. It is as if we have reached a point where the water is rushing by, foaming, powerful and urgent. The sound resounds across and between the speakers until a solitary and beautifully sad, stately drone enters accompanied by Serenella Noseda's ethereal vocals. Otherworldly and yet familiar, this speaks of nature as both wild and unknown and yet also integral and a part of who we are. The sound echoes and reverberates; backwards tapes glide across the waves of vocals and strings until we are left with just Noseda's haunting voice; an elegy to the life force in our rivers and seas. This music is symbolic; just as water and our rivers are symbolized or used as a metaphor to demonstrate significant meanings in our lives, here the music utilizes the roar and force of this water or the splashing and flow to illustrate and introduce each segment of the piece itself. A buzzing, eastern hum fades in from one such field recording, growing in volume and revealing hidden layers and harmonies as it winds and channels its way ever forwards. Analogue synth joins this flow, wave upon wave of electronic layers building until there is a symphony of sound both utterly affecting and uplifting. The birdsong then returns to signify the ultimate finale of the journey, the river's end.

An ambitious, moving and inspiring piece that is quite unlike anything else you will hear, 'Fragments of Lost Rivers' comes highly recommended. Enter the water, submerge yourself and see where the river takes you. Available now as a download or as a limited edition (100 copies) CD that is a piece of art in itself.

14 Jun 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 33

Here's something to take the sting off of the start of the working week - this month's sampler. Let's not muck about. This month we feature the following (most of whom you've read about here over the last month or so).

1. Truls Mörck - Take The Sun Down 04:07
2. Will Z. - Jain Devotion (Parts I-III) 13:20
3. Damien Youth - Quest To Succumb 03:04
4. The Heartwood Institute - Astercote 02:12
5. Annique Monet - 52 04:31
6. Repeated Viewing - Three Sisters (Main Titles) 06:32
7. Ancient Ocean - Blood Moon 05:04
8. The Karovas Milkshake - Purple Sun of Glastonbury 07:30
9. Gilligan Smiles - Casualty 03:59
10. Shadow Folk - Chopper 03:13
11. Os Noctambulos - Watching You 02:05
12. The Citradels - Dear Ivy 03:59
13. The Hatcliffe House Tapes - Further Away 06:06
14. Heaters - Mean Green 04:37
15. Dodson & Fogg - Your Work Is Through 07:18
16. Hawthonn - Epsilon 06:55

Cover art by Jackie Donner (archivalshift.com) - thanks Jackie!

Download or stream here:

13 Jun 2015

Novella "Land"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

How does one review an album as good as this without gushing like a starstruck little kid? As it is, everyone I know is going on about it! Novella is a five piece UK group with four women and one guy, produced by Jonas Verijnen (Moon Duo, Ballet School) and Joshua Third (The Horrors). They are easy to gaze upon, and even easier to listen to!

I am reminded of awesome Kiwi rock on opening track, “Follow”. Think more of Bailter Space than The Clean, as the song has a heavier vibe and also reminds me of Stereolab. In fact, it also has a motorik feel to it. Muscular and lean, with a cool fuzzed out guitar joining the sweet mayhem. And then the vocals dive in, and I am totally blissed out. “Something Must Change” continues in that propulsive, distorted vein, capped by sweet, female vocals. Listeners may play spot the influence and could hear bands as disparate as Can and 13th Floor Elevators. Not that it really matters, since Novella has carved their own path in the thickly defined forest of psychedelia that inhabits this planet. The mood completely changes on the lustrous and beautiful “Sentences”, reminding me of downtempo Lush. Stately guitars pair with crystalline harmonies, a perfect mix for this group. Psychedelic touches brush nearly everything on this release, but it’s never heavy-handed or too far out. “Two Ships” starts out with sitar tones and rather quickly morphs into beautiful, joyous noise.

The band’s two new members add a lot of texture to these songs, and the collision of sound meshes perfectly. “Land Gone” has an instantly memorable chorus that most bands would kill for! “Phrases” is equally fine, with that metronome-like drumming I favor in fast step with burgeoning guitar lines. The songs are simple, but the band adds many layers to build an expansive sound. “Blue Swallow” lifts the drum part from “Tomorrow Never Knows” and puts it to effective use in a twisting and turning opus that lasts nearly six minutes. “Younger Than Yesterday” (borrowing a title from The Byrds this time) has watery melodic motes and once again reminds me of Miki and Emma from Lush. “Skies Open” once again employs sitar and marries it to sunny vocals and smoothly strummed guitar. It is the end to this musical journey, one I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend to fans of Krautrock and deftly written and played psychedelia.

Get it on CD here (UK/EU), or here (US), or on vinyl here (UK/EU), or here (US).

12 Jun 2015

Bernard Fèvre "Suspense" "The Strange World of Bernard Fèvre" "Cosmos 2043"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

DJ Kirk Degiorgio and Mark Melton's label Sound Obsession have just done library music enthusiasts a massive service, and reissued French composer Bernard Fèvre's trilogy of essential library albums from 1975-1977 on vinyl. Compared to other industry composers, Fèvre was far from prolific in this particular genre, but his three lone production albums show that he favoured quality over quantity.

Long sought after by collectors, these reissues will be snapped up by a hungry public. The first thing one notices is the conciseness of Fèvre's material. It would be unusual for production music of this sort to be used in a concentrated burst of more than a few minutes, so Fèvre restricts his compositions to this length, making these albums completely free of filler, partly because tunes don't stick around long enough to outstay their welcome, but mostly because their brevity allows Fèvre to concentrate his efforts into instantly memorable themes and then move on to the next number before the listener has had the chance to catch their breath.

1975's "Suspense" is a pretty self explanatory release, although the majority of its contents sound like they're geared towards espionage and crime thrillers, rather than the supernatural, so Hauntologists may not get as much out of this one as they were anticipating. Analogue drum machines, vintage synths and plenty of funky clavinet are the order of the day here, created an air of tension that remains unspoiled throughout. I found myself involuntarily tiptoeing around the house while it was on.

"The Strange World of Bernard Fèvre" (also from 1975) is a more diverse affair. still focusing on vintage synthesizer and drum machine combos, it offers a more balanced view of Fevre's compositional skills, with a number of themes that transcend the cult appeal of library music, which one can easily imagine becoming part of mainstream consciousness, had they been exposed to the mainstream in some sort of well known TV serial. And to these ears, the suspense cues on here are sharper, and generally a step up from those on his previous release.

Which leaves us with 1977's "Cosmos 2043", which is the best of the lot I reckon. With "Star Wars" doing big business at the box office, Sci-Fi was THE big deal, and everyone was jumping on the bandwagon, including Musax (the album's original label) who were quite happy to plaster a golden droid on the cover. Fèvre's a class act though, and this isn't some schlocky cash-in, but an extremely memorable space-synth album with moments that are pure kosmische, and others that sound like they're straight out of a seventies science documentary (which they were more than likely used for). Ghost Box acolytes will absolutely adore the vast sound vistas on offer here - I'd be very surprised if The Advisory Circle's Jon Brooks isn't intimately familiar with this.

If you're only going to grab the one, "Cosmos 2043" is your man, but you'd be well served to grab all three while you can. There's plenty here to reward repeated plays. Fèvre meanwhile, would find his greatest cult appreciation with his next project "Black Devil Disco Club", but for me these three releases are the man at his best.

Cosmos 2043 is available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
The Strange World of Bernard Fevre is available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
Suspense is available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

Ancient Ocean "Blood Moon"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Ancient Ocean is Brooklyn, NY’s J.R. Bohannon, and his debut record, “Blood Moon” – from Beyond Beyond is Beyond – drops at the end of June, just in time for your summer’s ambient needs. This debut follows a few EPs and cassette releases, but this is first time we’ve heard Ancient Ocean operating within an album length space – and, with four tracks that total more than forty minutes, Bohannon has given himself plenty of space for exploration. Too many ambient albums fall into the trap of sounding improvised without purpose, but “Blood Moon,” from the start, takes you by the wrist and leads. From the start, “Blood Moon” feels weathered and classic, an album worthy of repetition.

Over a hush of white noise, “Beargrass Creek” slinks through a dense and loosely sliding melody before roughly bowed and brooding strings, mirroring the sliding melody, come to the foreground. The experimental nature of the composition lay in the execution; the melody is pleasant, even memorable. Ancient Ocean’s talent is the building of these sonic landscapes while retaining the human quality of the instruments and their players – even highlighting them. You can’t help noticing the emotive playing when, later in the song, the string section appears alone. In some ways, “Beargrass Creek” stands in contrast with the relatively brief opening track, “Blood Moon,” which emphasizes another quality in Ancient Ocean’s music: the ability to create a lush wash of complex and compelling sounds from (mostly, I think) electronics. The whole album is hypnotic, proving Ancient Ocean’s status among his contemporaries as an impressive new voice in the genre.

There are a few notable guests on the album: Jonas Reinhardt and Mark Demolar (Woodsman) on the title track; J.S. Aurelius (Destruction Unit), Craig Schenker and Aaron Martin on “Beargrass Creek.”

There’s an obvious influence from minimalist composers album wide, but, for a contemporary frame of reference, Ancient Ocean recalls the early albums of Stars of the Lid and Godspeed You! Black Emperor as well as the ambient work of Rachel’s or Boards of Canada at times.

Ancient Ocean is a rare and beautiful record.

Available on CD here (UK/EU), and vinyl here (UK/EU). US buyers can get it straight from the label here.

11 Jun 2015

“Better Late Than Never....” The Reverb Worship Compilation

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Roger Linney's Reverb Worship label is now in its eighth year of releasing excruciatingly limited, and unfailingly interesting albums from the cream of the current underground. That being the case, it's a wonder it's taken this long for a bit of self-celebration, but the wait has been very much worth it, with this two disc collection providing a fine overview of the label's scope over its 28 tracks.

By rights, this should sound like a bit of a disjointed mess. Reverb Worship have an incredibly eclectic roster, with the only prerequisite being that Roger has to love the music being produced. This then, is an unpigeonholeable collection, containing acid-folk, psychedelia, menacing ambient drones, and all sorts of other lovely underground gems, which it's very unlikely that we would be listening to had Roger's canny ear not heard them first. There's such diversity here, that it really is surprising quite how well everything flows, and what a cohesive listening experience it adds up to.

For those new to the label, this is the place to start. And for those who have already dined at this table, this will be a treat for you as well, comprised as it is almost entirely of rare and unreleased material from Reverb Worship affiliated artists.

It's often quite spooky, with ominous drones and haunted folk aplenty, but there are also moments of real beauty. James McKeown's "Falling" for instance, is a glorious thing; originally recorded for his "Sublime Knight Elect" album, it wouldn't have quite fit there, but its glistening guitars are a real highlight here.

Syd Barrett's influence continues to permeate, with enjoyable covers of "Dark Globe" and "Matilda Mother", but it's the original material (which is almost everything else here) which really impresses, particularly the ghostly, psychedelic choral work of The Gray Field Recordings, which sounds like "The Shining" on LSD -  delightfully creepy, but also quite lovely.

This and many other gems await the discerning listener, but as always Reverb Worship editions are printed in very limited numbers, so get in quick. Investigate the tracklisting in detail, or order here.

Check out the Howling Larsons' version of "Matilda Mother" here:

Nine Questions with the Heartwood Institute

What was the first record you bought?
I had a walkman a long time before I had an actual record player, so I bought all kinds of embarrassing stuff on tape, but I’m pretty sure my first actual record was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album.

What was the last record you bought?
The new Pye Corner Audio 10” that just came out on Death Waltz Records.

What's one thing about you that very few people know?
Unless they are also industry friends…. I actually write library music for a living and one of my claims to fame….. there’s a strip club scene in the movie Bad Santa, well that’s one of my library tracks in the background.

If you could record with any one artist who would it be and why?
I think it’s got to be Delia Derbyshire, I’d just love to know how she achieved what she did with practically nothing more than manipulating tape.

Who should we be listening to right now?
At the moment I’m very much liking The Hare And The Moon’s Wood Witch album, and the new CD from The Eccentronic Research Council. At the rockier end of things, I’m still blown away by Six Organs Of Admittance’s Hexadic album and the new Sleater Kinney. So I guess you ought to check those out. But, by and large, everyone should listen to Magma. Regularly.

Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette?
For the sound vinyl, then probably CD, but digital for convenience and portability. That said, I’m proud to still own a cassette deck and a lot of tapes. In fact I still have a Minidisc player and a DAT machine. I guess I collect defunct technology.

Tell us about your latest release.
The latest Heartwood Institute release is Astercote (name your price/free download below). It’s an imagined soundtrack to the book of the same name by Penelope Lively. I’ve been re-visiting a lot of the books of I remember reading and enjoying as a teenager. As I was re-reading it, it just seemed like there was such strong imagery there, that it immediately sparked the idea of making a soundtrack to go with it. I wanted to make something that was influenced by some of my favourite 70’s soundtracks : The Wickerman, Get Carter, that kind of thing. But also the more out-there TV soundtracks I remember too, from things like The Changes, Children Of The Stones and the original Tomorrow People. I guess I kind of identify those sounds with the time I originally would have been reading the book, during the late seventies / early eighties. So I set out to create something that hopefully sounded like it could have come not just from the period, but from 1970, the year the book was originally published. Hopefully you’ll agree.

What's next for you, musically?
I have a number of plans afoot for more Heartwood releases. There will probably be more “imagined soundtracks”, there’s certainly no shortage of material to inspire those. But the other big inspiration, which features on the first two ep’s, are the places, the history and the folklore of the English Lakes. So I’m pondering the best way to focus that and shape it into a more specific release of some kind. My biggest issue is trying to find the time to actually do it, as I have a pretty punishing work schedule right now.

What's for dinner?
I’m hoping for hot dogs.


Twice Dead "I'll Love You Till You're Dead Again"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Isle Of Man's Twice Dead have recently unloaded their latest opus onto the world wide web, press play and it goes off like an exhilarating psych noise electronic bomb. Featuring lead vocalist Mike Seed (who also records as Sand Fingers) on saxophone and words, Richard Quirk on modular synths and guitars, Martyn Thomas on drums and Neil Whitehead on bass, this is a maelstrom of Hawkwind meets Sonic Youth intent and carefully controlled melodic cacophony.

Opener 'Slip Your Moorings' begins with a howl of electrics and distorted bass, Seed's flanged and reverberated vocals drifting eerily over the quickening pace and building rhythm of the song. A mixture of The Fall's steady beat, Earth's monolithic riffage and Silver Apple's wired electronic soundscapes this is a truly massive and immersive experience. 'Petronius' follows immediately on, spoken word vocals emerging from the rippling and divebombing guitar bursts recalling the Wire of '154' (always a good thing in this listener's book). An epic nine minutes long this is a genuinely thrilling, hairs on the back of your neck cosmic electronic jam. Tightly controlled but endlessly inventive the sound becomes almost trance like as wave upon wave of guitar and vintage synth roar forwards. 'The Shadow Narrative' emerges from the previous track, jagged synth pulsating and delivering a riff that 'Hall Of The Mountain Grill' era Hawkwind would be proud of. Free form and exploratory (although always within the tightly held beat) the song propels ever onwards until it fades into a humming drone and Seed's distinctive, dispassionate spoken word vocals, a chilling end to the lysergic electronic jam that came before. 'The Star Of India' has some of the most apocalyptic guitar playing you will ever hear, the distorted Big Black style bass growling beneath modular whooshes and wails and Seed's voice. Experimental, distinctly English and electrifying; Twice Dead are a hidden treasure indeed.

'Provincial Station (Goodbye Madame B)' slows the pace down with a creeping bassline and saxophone and keyboard feedback; a haunted prowl through some darkened recess of the mind. The synth modules bubble into life as the guitar lays a backdrop of dread and tension for Seed's narration. Think Throbbing Gristle, the afore mentioned Wire and Hawkwind and perhaps also Om or Sleep; but also be aware that Twice Dead are their own unique proposition who ultimately sound quite like nothing else on this earth. A case in point is 'Tide Tables'; with its sparkling synth and Seed's urgent delivery it is utterly entrancing and genuinely beautiful, the electronics creating and ebb and flow not unlike a vast electric ocean. It is arguably the stand out track on an already deeply impressive album. Closer 'Arthur's Wain' is another eccentric English tale told over a strolling bassline, swathes of distortion and a building urgent beat. If the Velvet Underground had come from the Isle Of Man then 'White Light White Heat' might have sounded like this.

It is truly pleasing that, in the age of safe and predictable major label releases and empty and depressing TV talent shows that out of the darkness comes music like that of Twice Dead. Pushing boundaries, following their own unique path and making music that burns with life, energy and creativity they demand to be heard.

Available as a free / name your own price download here: