31 Aug 2015

Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab "Coconut Summer Drop-In 432"

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Coconut Summer Drop-In 432 is Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab’s second album of 2015 (and third in less than a year), and I swear to god, this band just keeps getting better and better.

On their new plate, the spaceheads are at the beach, using the sound of the Beach Boys, circa "SMiLE", as a launching pad to explore yet another corner of the psychedelic pop spectrum.

It all begins with a rousing cheer—“Ready! Steady! Ready, steady, BEACH!!!”—that quickly morphs into an honest-to-goodness song, with the perfect melodies that we’ve come to expect from this band. A whimsical arrangement has ukeleles occupying the same space as theremins.

“Too Hot To Sleep” comes next. It’s a bouncy pop tune sung partially in Spanish, although it never really recollects anything remotely “World Music.” At the end of the song, the arrangement briefly devolves into a drum machine-propelled interlude that sounds like a lost piece of “Revolution #9.” “Everybody’s talking about biscuits,” they chant.

A segue into the pure cheese pop of “She’s Crazy” keeps the beach ball rolling with lots of space echo and toy xylophones propelling the album along until the ukuleles come back, joined by steel guitar and synthesized ocean sounds for the mostly instrumental “Sailcoats Paradise”.

“Andiamo” brings us back to something closer to a pure psychedelic indie pop sound. And, in typical Tape Lab fashion, it’s perfect.

But the Beach Boys-isms keep coming back: “High Inside (The Lost Frontier)” shamelessly rips off the sound of (and bits of melody from) “Surf’s Up.” While “Get There While You’re Going” opens with a guitar lick reminiscent of “Help Me Rhonda”, but the lyric about travelling by train and “seeing the nation’s towns pass by before our eyes” smacks of the Americana themes that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks obsessed over once the cars and surfing themes were left behind.

If the album weren’t so damn good, one could write it off as a mere exercise—an experiment in imitation. However, like XTC’s The Dukes of Stratosphear project, the songs are good enough to rise above any such concerns. It’s another winner from these extraordinary Glasgowians, who are quickly proving themselves one of the best bands working today.

CD and digital available here:

30 Aug 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 35

A little later than usual, but here's this month's sampler, which I think is a particularly strong one, although it may feature a few names that those who haven't been keeping up to date with our reviews may not know. Some future giants of the genre here I'm sure.

Thanks to Bob Tibbitts for the sleeve art, it's great to have Bob back!

Without further ado, here's what we've got for you on this month's sampler, followed by the streaming / download link. ANY donations are very gratefully accepted towards the costs of running this website and the samplers.

1. Wilding - Here We Are 01:52 2. Ozarks - One Thing 03:34 3. Triptides - Dark Side 03:26 4. ZX+ - The Desert 02:08 5. Children - Salamander 03:54 6. Dog Age - Phone Poles 04:19 7. Kingdom of the Holy Sun - 01 Set the Controls for the Center of your Mind 02:29 8. Rainsmoke - Mean Meanwhile (Remix) 03:51 9. Helicon - In A Sad Red Dusk 05:34 10. The Seventh Ring of Saturn - Burning a Hole 04:30 11. Pridjevi - Svijet na dlanu 02:50 12. Sospetto - Essouflement 03:05 13. Machine est mon Couer - Trainwreck 04:24 14. Matchess - Mortification of the Flesh 03:31 15. Katje Janisch - Cordelia's Lament 04:21

Nuggets II Revisited Track Premiere

Nuggets II Revisited cover art by Alan Davidson of the Kitchen Cynics

I've been mostly keeping quiet about the upcoming Nuggets II tribute album, but it's getting close to completion now, and will be out by the end of next month.

I've always loved the second Nuggets box set - the UK and the Commonwealth one - so set out to put together a set of quality coversof material from this box, by contemporary psychedelic artists. There's been a great response and we've go some really great versions to share, from established Active Listener favourites like the Kitchen Cyncics and the Beginners Mynd and names that you won't know but will be hearing lots more from in the future.

And it'll be a free / name your price download from Bandcamp - like the Active Listener Samplers.

To get you all in the mood, here's a premiere of one of the tracks recorded especially for us by the Beginners Mynd who absolutely nail "I Wish I Was Five".

29 Aug 2015

Éloïse Decazes and Delphine Dora "Folk Songs Cycle" / Ed Sanders "Yiddish Speaking Socialists Of The Lower East Side"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Two curious and highly creative recordings that come beautifully packaged as 10” vinyl releases from the Brussels based label Okraina Records, both 'Folk Songs Cycle' and 'Yiddish Speaking Socialists…' are hidden treasures that intrigue and delight in equal measure. 'Folk Songs Cycle' is an interpretive re-recording of the Italian composer Luciano Berio's 1964 album 'Folk Songs', written for his wife, the American singer Cathy Berberian. 'Yiddish Speaking Socialists...' meanwhile is an intense performance poem set to music by Fug's founder Ed Sanders that was originally released on cassette in 1991 and has been in unfair obscurity ever since. Both are fascinating documents and truly evocative pieces of work brought into the world by a very special and dedicated record label.

With 'Folk Songs Cycle', both Decazes and Dora have clearly taken these simple but emotive songs to their hearts and the glacial beauty of their interpretations recalls both the relatively unadorned folk vocal groups (such as The Young Tradition) and the more complex, avant garde leanings of European modern classical music. 'Black is The Colour (Of My True Love's Hair)' is performed with simple piano accompaniment, the duo's harmonised vocals haunting and crystal clear allowing the words of this traditional ballad to speak for themselves. Likewise 'I Wonder As I Wander' (another American traditional) is a heartbreaking hymnal, the vocals both intense and emotive in their purity. Lovers of The Watersons and traditional folk will adore this as will aficionados of Americana as performed by the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy, Faun Fables and Josephine Foster. Those of a more experimental bent will also note moments of Nico styled grace, such as the Armenian ballad 'Lossin Yelav' which, framed by harmonium drones, is a mournful and sorrowful symphony of interweaving vocal harmonies. 'Rossignolet Du Bois' is a French folk song of no small beauty and power, sprinkles of shimmering piano accentuating the sense of timelessness and tradition whilst 'A La Femminisca' takes a Sicilian waltz and creates a quiet, psychedelic wonder. 'Ballo' is a strident piano lament with backwards tapes and layers of choral style vocals, quite unlike anything else you might hear and yet, as with many folk songs, both eerily familiar and strangely comforting. Both vocalists excel here and 'Folk Song Cycles' is very much an album of their voices, the accompanying instrumentation is subtle and serves to frame their words and inflections. 'Motettu De Tristura' introduces field recordings and birdsong to the spectral loveliness whilst 'Azerbaijan Love Song' is a complex and gently thrilling ending to this exceptional and unique album. Highly recommended.

'Yiddish Speaking Socialists Of The Lower East Side' is comprised of two set pieces, with Sanders sing-speaking and describing the tradition of New York militant Jewish poetry via 'an epic piece of almost 18 minutes’ length - a vocal setting of a dense and reasoned text that runs to eight typed pages, 1400 words and 8500 characters.' This is a recording of subtle power and grace, its performance poetry ably backed by the drone and melody of Sander's specially made pulse lyre, a keyboard type instrument intended to be used in the bardic tradition of accompanying tales with the sound of the stringed lyre. Like an intense, serious minded and political Ivor Cutler, Sanders carefully layers and arranges his vocals, singing and intoning in a genuinely epic performance. Whilst some might term this 'outsider art' I prefer to see this in the vein of the beat poets and of an experimental musical path that takes in the likes of Robert Wyatt and the afore mentioned Cutler. However this recording undoubtedly pursues its own distinctly focused, artistic and inventive path and should not be missed. Take a chance on this valuable release; in the age of mass produced, middle of the road and mundane music to find an album of such individual and inspired vision is extremely satisfying.

Both releases come with gorgeous sleeve art by Gwénola Carrère on vinyl with an accompanying download. Available through the streaming links here:

28 Aug 2015

Dog Age "Swanlake Gate"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

It's been 26 years since Oslo's Dog Age released their first LP, an album I love so much that I sorted out a digital reissue through the Active Listener imprint, in the hope that it would reach a new, appreciative audience. Without being directed by commercial concerns or a desire for mainstream acceptance, Dog Age have had the luxury of doing things their way, at their own pace.

Which brings us to their brand new album, "Swanlake Gate". After the grandiose, progressive flourishes of their previous effort (the impressive "On the Garish Isles"), "Swanlake Gate" is a return to more poppy territory - perhaps more so than anything they've recorded since "Reefy Seadragon" was released on Rainbow Quartz. Of course because you're reading this on the Active Listener, I'll assume that you realise pop in this context means Beatles and Beach Boys rather than say, Britney and Beyoncé. And while they're big, ambitious influences to be courting, "Swanlake Gate" sounds like a natural extension of those influences, performed by a band who love the music of this era, who just can't help it coming out this way, rather than a band that methodically attempts to replicate it.

Dukes of Stratosphear / XTC fans will spin out when they hear the chirpy psych-pop of "Opening Up The Park" and "Scathing" - you'd be hard pressed to find better Partridge / Moulding soundalikes, while the instantly appealling "Happy Fowl Stomp" is the best type of nonsense, a sort of Zappa visits Canterbury hybrid by way of the Bonzos.

"Phone Poles" shows a little more depth, utilising some of the biggest hooks here, with Beatlesque harmony vocals, and a Revolveresque arrangement propelled by a busy Macca bassline. And that "Everyone knows where they are...." outro is pure distilled Lennon.

It's not all bright and bubbly either. "Sonatine" is a much more subtle, minor key piece. Equally effective, it casts an eerie shadow aided by swells of backwards guitars, droning Indian instrumentation and an effective mellotron hook. These less insistent tracks with appear reluctant to give up their secrets right away, perfectly balancng out the immediately familar, upbeat moments, and drawing the listener into an addictive state that makes repeat plays an almost involuntary certainty.

"Swanlake Gate" is available on CD by messaging the band directly via their Facebook page.

27 Aug 2015

Evening Fires "Where I’ve Been is Places and What I’ve Seen is Things" & "Incredible Adventures"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Over the last few years, Pennsylvania’s Evening Fires has been quietly releasing albums at a steady pace. This past summer, we saw a simultaneous release: their latest LP “Where I’ve Been is Places and What I’ve Seen is Things” through Sunrise Ocean Bender and the companion CD – which is strong enough to stand alone – “Incredible Adventures” by way of Deep Water Acres. I had ordered the LP a while before its release and well before the opportunity to review it came my way, partly out of some pride as a Pennsylvanian and partly because of SOB’s description, which markets Evening Fires as a collective of like-minded musicians, tuning into something both very cosmic and very rural, as “purveyors of Appalachian space rock.” Besides, considering Sunrise Ocean Bender’s track record (see Chef Menteur, E GONE, or Dead Sea Apes for more proof), the purchase was made in full confidence.

"We Cast Our Lots with the Waves" drifts through a simple melody, voiced by an accordion, while various electronic pulses and chimes find their footing. The effect is staggering, as two instrumentations, often at odds, complement each other so well. With Evening Fires, that's going to happen throughout their work, as they meld the rustic ambience with far reaching and eclectic outlooks. If you need more proof of this, see "Space Mountain," which stirs from a great depth, brimming with acid rock drop ins and wobbling electronics alongside a lush backdrop of open ambience.

“Staring Down the Gullet of the Great Beyond,” a three part excursion into improvised and swirling space rock that spans both the LP and CD, is the touchstone for newcomers to Evening Fires. Varying in length, from about 5 minutes to 11, each track documents what sounds like a moment or mood during rehearsal. The musicians simultaneously move separately and work incredibly in sync as well. Unlike many of their peers, the post-rock melded psychedelia the band caters is rarely tinged by dark ambience, even at its most exploratory; rather, Evening Fires cooks up a uniquely positive and upbeat brand of instrumentalism that celebrates their group, their "collective of musical shape-shifters, [...] tribe of mountain dwelling barn alchemists." In the end, the album's general feel is one of mutual appreciation and camaraderie through the highly kosmische musicianship; it sounds fun to play.

"Incredible Adventures" is much more than a companion disc; with four tracks that clock in at 38 minutes, you more or less understand the implicit agreement. These are extended takes, varying from electronic collage - see "Inaussprechlichen Kulten" for example - and ambient jazz to guitar heavy depth diving.

Both available through the bandcamp links below in a variety of formats.

26 Aug 2015

Rainsmoke "Mean Meanwhile"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Here is something equal parts curious, unusual and spellbinding. 'Mean Meanwhile', a new single from a similarly new project featuring Chris Wade (Dodson And Fogg), Roger Planer and Nigel Planer (an instantly recognisable and much loved British actor whose biography as an actor includes The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents, Dennis Potter's Blackeyes and This Is Jinsey). Featuring two mixes of the song that offer a different mood and spin on the material, this is a quiet, late summer psych gem.

With evocative lyrics written by Nigel Planer (who featured on two hilarious and surreal spoken word tracks on Dodson And Fogg's recent 'In A Strange Slumber' opus) and music by brother Roger Planer and Dodson main man Chris Wade, 'Mean Meanwhile' is a hazy, harmonised slice of acid folk tinged melancholy loveliness that recalls Ray Davies, the acoustic moments of 'Selling England By The Pound' and underrated folksters Candidate. The guitars twist and turn in gentle, fluid motion under Planer's expressive vocals, the song recognisably having a Dodson And Fogg involvement in its easy way with a truly memorable melody. The 'A side' mix is a simpler, more acoustic take whilst the 'B side' contains a fuller mix with drums, subtle backwards psych guitar and organ lending a more tripped out and 60's feel to proceedings. Both versions offer a different mood and air, the first being a more straight forward slice of classic, psychedelic folk whilst the second offers a rich, immersive, more prog fuelled Moody Blues take on the song. Each are indispensable and enjoyable in their own right and promise great things from Rainsmoke in their future musical wanderings.

A perfect soundtrack as the summer afternoons grow shorter with its wistful melancholy and gentle haze, 'Mean Meanwhile' is now available on Chris Wade's Wisdom Twins Bandcamp page for a paltry one pound. You know what to do.

24 Aug 2015

Download Pepperisms Vol. Three Custom Mix

Back in 2011, I put together "Pepperisms Vol. Two", an unofficial followup to a now-hard-to-find compilation of Beatlesque tunes from the sixties and seventies.

I've been meaning to do another one for years, and finally got around to looking into it a month or so ago. I didn't do it alone this time though. I enlisted the help of the Junipers' Peter Gough (who has his own excellent music blog here). Peter's encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm were invaluable, and he suggested and provided around half of the tracks featured here - thanks Peter!

As with the previous volume, it's sequenced to reflect a chronological journey through the eras of the Beatles music that each song is inspired by. Many of the tracks come from lossy sources due to their rarity, so don't expect everything to be crystal clear.

Are you ready for 23 of the most Beatlesque tracks from the sixties and seventies?

Download here. 

For those who still like little shiny discs, this should fit comfortably on a 74 min CD-R.

Put Your Mind at Ease - Every Mother's Son
Three Arms To Hold You - Apostrophe
Secondary Man - Rogues
Hell Will Take Care Of Her - Brass Buttons
The Sailing Ship - The Cryan Shames
What Do You Do - The Bonzo Dog Band
Whisper Who Dares - John Winfields
Just Because I've Fallen Down - The Buckinghams
To The Woods - The Barron Knights
Strawberry Jam Man - Jamme
Master Will - Velvet Glove
Yes It Is - Rockin' Horse
Rocking Circus - Space AKA The Tremeloes
If You Really Need Me - The Hudson Brothers
A Fool - Godiego
Bluebird Is Dead - Electric Light Orchestra
Save A Red Face - Stackridge
Lonely Norman - Jimmy Campbell
I Surrender - Sleepy Hollow
Paul McCartney - Tony Hazzard
Nice and Easy - Tranquility
See The Light - The Flame
Sub-Rosa Subway - Klaatu

Disclaimer - If you like what you hear, please buy the artist's work. The tracks featured here are intended to introduce the artists to a new paying audience. If you are the copyright holder for anything featured here and object to its inclusion, please get in touch and it will be removed immediately.

ZX+ "Don't Drink The Water"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Now this was a very pleasant surprise. Arriving in the post unsolicited, this CD found its way into my CD player with me knowing exactly nothing about it or the artist involved, apart from a vague remembrance of there being some sort of a Fruits de Mer Records connection.

"Don't Drink the Water" as it turns out, might well be one of the best albums that I've heard this year. ZX+ is the one man band project of Stephen Evans, and on the evidence of this he's something of a British equivalent to Ty Segall, only with a much wider frame of influential reference. Short and to the point, Evans' songs are inventive and immaculately arranged without sacrificing his spirit of spontaneity. And the hooks are numerous, huge, and inescapible.

Opener "The Crazies" is a glammy powerpop juggernaut with a killer chorus - equal parts Ty Segall and Big Star. It's a winnning formula, and one that a hugely enjoyable album could be built upon, but Evans has a lot more going on in his head, and the rest of "Don't Drink the Water" traverses an admirable range of terrains, which mark this as the product of a hyperactive, creative mind that doesn't want to be chained down, but knows how to put it's own distinctive stamp on its creations.

There's not a weak track among its 13, but one of the highlights will give you an idea of what you're letting yourself in for, and demonstrate Evans' versatility; "The Desert" is an absolute scorcher, and sounds like a track that an alternate universe's Supergrass have unwisely left off "In It For The Money", only this Supergrass are also lovers of quirky spaghetti westerns and shoegaze. That's a lot of impressions to be left with from a song that's only a little over two minutes long, but that's what this album is going to do to you. And you'll find yourself humming its choruses for weeks afterwards. You've been warned.

This is one hugely talented songwriter.

CD, download and full stream here:

Matchess "Somnaphoria"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

If you've never heard of Matchess, here's a bit of an introduction. Matchess is the solo project of Chicago musician Whitney Johnson, whom you may know from Verma or E+. If you've not heard of either, they're worth the excursion. From an outsider’s perspective, Chicago’s music scene seems to be one of the most active in America – and if not “active” then cultivated, pure, and vibrant. I can only imagine the quality bands that have not made it out of the area yet. Verma’s “Sunrunner” is still a favorite of this reviewer, so it wasn’t long before I discovered Johnson’s first release, 2013’s “Seraphastra.” Like "Seraphastra," "Somnaphoria" - released by Trouble in Mind Records earlier this summer - blends elements of classical viola arrangement, drone, and primitive electronica into a mesmerizing cocktail of strangely beautiful and otherworldly records. "Somnaphoria" is the next installation in Johnson's proposed trilogy, so, presumably, we'll get more subtle exploration and experimentation that wrangles the physicality of a bowed viola with the constant whir of an organ.

This time around, Johnson cites symbolist poetry as her influence, name checking Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, whose imagery and invention must prove difficult – for most musicians – to translate sonically, but Johnson’s instruments, tones, and aesthetics of choice have a way of alluding to the same balance those poets achieved, namely melding the harsh, cold voices of mechanical oscillations and whirs with the very human, emotive viola. Mysteriously, Johnson’s voice – arguably the most organic of her line up – hovers somewhere in between, deeply altered by any number of pedals and processors but still remaining unique and feeling. The effect is powerful. As opening track, "So Many Fetters," begins with a cascade of chimes, so we, as listeners, are ushered into a sort of dreamland.

Layered, complex drones intermingle over pulses and tones. However, with tracks like "Sinister Prophecies of Coming Catastrophes" to provide somber and moving interludes, the otherwise continual drones remain hypnotic.

“Somnaphoria” is available here (US), and here (UK/EU).

23 Aug 2015

Uh Bones "Honey Coma"

Reviewed by Celina Ozymandias

It seems I’m a bit late to the flower punk party happening in Chicago. Upon first listen of the Uh Bones, I’m actually upset that I haven’t been listening to them for years. This is a sound that makes me happy because while it is clearly heavily influenced by 60s garage and psychedelic rock, there is also enough originality in there to warrant your attention and your shimmy. It’s the perfect balance between boppin’-your-head and downright-getting-down music.

Their newest release, "Honey Coma", from Randy Records is a lo-fi delight full of Nuggets-esque goodness. The album is a slow lift-off with “In Your Womb,” a track that is like some lost, languid, early Black Lips number, only warm and fuzzy. And I mean fuzzy, in the nicest of ways. Like a giant, sleepy bumblebee cruising from flower to flower. Things start really picking up with “Loretta,” which could easily be a lost garage single from 1967. The bass sound throughout the album is phenomenal, but the bass line in this song is absolutely top. It’s punchy, it’s upbeat, and it’s bound to make you move. The next track is what happens when a band is able to combine the best of everything and make it work. “Trouble No More” takes the groove of the original, inserts Dawn Penn’s “No, No No”, and comes out sounding like The Blues Magoos (or, arguably, The Beatles). My hat’s off to the guys on that one because that’s no easy feat. Toward the end of the album, “I’ll Never” sticks out because it’s got the familiarity of The Kinks’ “I Need You” and a playful integration of instrumentation a la Them’s “Gloria.” It ends in a brief flourish of psych freakout that I could have gladly listened to for ages, but which speaks to their dynamic talent. They manage to put all of these influences in and still have room for their own sonic contributions.

I think ‘psych’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a blanket label of music that involves reverb and echo. What I feel Uh Bones are doing with their sound is solidifying their rightful claim to garage psych. There are no 8 or 28 minute drone sessions, there is no noodling, and in fact the longest track is just over 3 minutes long. These songs just get to the point and leave you wanting more. Uh Bones have a sound familiar to those of us (myself included) seemingly stuck in 60s worship, but they give us something new to dig and shake our butts to.

Vinyl and digital both available here:

21 Aug 2015

The Seventh Ring of Saturn "Ormythology"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Seventh Ring of Saturn's previous, self-titled album fell into my lap courtesy of Fruits de Mer Records' Keith Jones. It wasn't a Fruits de Mer release, but Keith was sufficiently impressed to feel I should hear it, and he was right. Unfortunately with a release date of 2007 it was far too old for me to review for you. Nonetheless, I contacted TSROS's Ted Selke to attempt to negotiate a digital reissue through the Active Listener Records imprint, but Ted was gracious but firm; TSROS had come a long way, and were working up new material which would offer a far more accurate representation of what TSROS was really all about, and that was Ted's primary focus. Interpreting this as Ted's way of saying that he thinks that the self-titled album (which I think is absolutely fantastic) is not up to scratch left me extremely curious as to what this new material was going to be like.

Which brings us to "Ormythology", the culmination of years of work for Selke and co.

Like the debut, "Ormythology" is a mixture of originals and covers. The two Selke penned numbers "Burning a Hole" and "Time to Fly" are among the strongest tracks here, especially the former, which has the subtle melodicism of the Green Pajamas, but is much more deeply lysergic than anything they've turned their hand to since the mid eighties. I'd love to hear more originals on the next release, if these are anything to go on.

The covers are great too, mind. Bypassing safe selections, the six covers are an esoteric mixture that take in everything from Turkish and Greek folk and pop to Danish and American garage. If you weren't familiar with the originals however, you'd be hard pressed to notice that they weren't the band's own songs, so well do they put their own stamp on them. Exotic instrumentals "Teli Teli Teli" and Erkin Koray’s "Karli Dagger" are given exciting makeovers that fuse Eastern scales with Western psychedelia perfectly. The T.C Atlantics' "Faces" gets given the TSROS treatment too, emerging from a swirling cloud of phasing to be reinvented as a moody psych ballad. And Danish heavy psych band Hurdy Gurdy's "Spaceman" is a much more muscular affair, with wailing guitar leads and crunchy power chords creating a lysergic storm. And then it's all over, leaving me very much wanting more.

Fortunately there is more; released concurrently is a 7" of much less esoteric covers - the Grateful Dead's "Mountains of the Moon" and the Hollies' "All the World is Love". The band's website seems to imply that these are solo recordings by Ted, but they're just as ornate as anything on the album - if a little more straightforward. And on lovely clear vinyl too.

Both releases are strictly limited, and come in lovely hand-stamped heavy card sleeves. Visit the band's website here for full streams of most of the tracks, and to find out how and where you can order these. (The album is available on CD and vinyl).

19 Aug 2015

"Weirdshire...Beating The Bounds"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A treasure trove of psych-folk gems, 'Weirdshire...Beating The Bounds' is brought to you by acid folk masters Sproatly Smith, who have compiled the best and strangest of their local Herefordshire contemporaries into one grand guignol of the wyrd and the wonderful. As is stated on their bandcamp page; 'Weirdshire? Well, of course it is. If you don’t know that, you must have been born in Herefordshire and therefore think everywhere else is weird…'

The first thing to note is the sheer wealth and breadth of talent on display for such a confined geographical area; there must be something in the waters down there, something in the air, the ale or the fields which has resulted in a track listing that includes Sproatly Smith themselves (if you haven't encountered their magical ruralism and unique take on psych folk before you are in for an incredible treat), two songs from the bardic Sedayne (again seek his superb albums out for a clear view of the direction where true folk music is heading), highly recommended folk brut act Heed The Thunder and the ethereal and bewitching Alula Down (both featuring various Sproatly members).

Sproatly Smith's 'The Raven's Song' is a lysergic, haunted drone filled with twisted acoustic melodies, field recordings and spectral vocals; listening to this is enough to place a chill in the air. Vintage synths bubble and drift across the track's finale, further adding a sense of the uncanny. Smith accomplice Mark Stevenson presents a solo woodwind piece entitled 'Strangeness' that embodies the term 'folk horror' and reminds this listener of the intro to Black Widow's infernal 'Come To The Sabbat'. Sedayne offers both the ghostly refrain of 'Gentle Sisterhood' which opens the album and the closing 'Blackthorn Feral' which utilises vintage radio recordings of local traditions and as a precursor to some raga infused analogue keyboard meditations. It is hugely impressive and also quite unexpected, in keeping with the wyrd theme of this album. We are as far here from Mumford and Sons territory as it is possible to get, and a good thing too. Heed The Thunder's 'Green Man' is a bucolic mix of xylophone and mandolin, gentle percussion entering to create an atmosphere not unlike if Oliver Postgate and Vernon Elliot had conceived the score to The Wicker Man; this is a stand out track amongst some very fine company indeed. Alula Down's 'Hereford Garden Dreaming' enters upon birdsong and delicate acoustics before Kate Gathercole's spellbinding vocals transport the listener to another time completely, to an eternal spring.

Other Hereford artists also add to this rustic and heady brew. Andrew Skellam's 'Green Moat' is reflective, violin flecked stately folk of the highest order whilst Tobion/ Bird Radio again use local radio recordings to map a psychogeographical time and place before Peter Hammill-esque vocal harmonies present a dramatic and engaging folk tale abetted by crashes of gong and sinister piano sprinkles. Ria's 'Vampire Lullaby' is a fragile, gothic slice of classic psych folk whilst Aspel Orchard's music box and toy piano based 'Fledging Song' is a revelation, a shanty of ghosts and overgrown paths that begs further investigation into their back catalogue. Elspeth Anne uses rasping organ drones to frame her defiant and doomed folk lament; again further searching to find more songs by these artists is a necessity and isn't that what the best compilations do? They can be a casket of previously unknown and hidden gemstones that lead to lifelong allegiances with newly discovered acts and bands. Weirdshire certainly falls into this category and then some. Milkteeth use unaccompanied group vocals to splendid effect in a deeply eerie and dark 'The River' whilst Lol Roberston's heartrending 'Lucy's Song' is a superior piece of smoky, autumnal nostalgia. Vaginapocalypse's 'The Witches' is an unnerving jig that is absolutely entrancing and Footdragger's virtuoso guitar and Baby Dee style vocals make for a unique and winning formula in his 'Spires To Sticks'. Finally, David Roberts string soaked, tabla led acoustic voyaging and hushed vocals evoke shades of Nick Drake and misty autumn afternoons.

Weirdshire then is not just a place with geographical boundaries and features, with its local traditions and its own peculiar ways. It is also a frame of mind, a shared collective spirit that is just slightly off kilter in comparison to the outside world. This is what makes it special and what makes this album essential. They welcome visitors I hear, just as long as they aren't Christian coppers from the mainland…

Available below on CD and download.

18 Aug 2015

Beach House "Depression Cherry"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Beach House is a group I’ve loosely followed over the years, always admiring their beautiful songs and skill in playing and creating such dreamy confections. Depression Cherry is no exception, though it seems the band has stripped down the sound a bit. Songs are a bit less ornate and inhabit the same sonic space as Stereolab, Death and Vanilla, and maybe even Air. It was produced and recorded with the help of longtime collaborator Chris Coady (Future Islands, Wavves) at Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

The band claims this release is more aggressive, and I am not clear on what that means exactly. It seems like the same mannered dream pop to me, with vintage echoes of great 50s/60s pop and a modern sensibility. It is cinematic dream pop for hipsters, but it goes far beyond that in its accomplishments. French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally serve up finely honed compositions with Victoria’s achingly lovely voice swirling around deceptively simple melodies. “Levitation” would be a hit if there was justice in the music world. I really dig how it builds from simple melodic lines and never loses sight of its basic patterns, even while instruments are dropped into the mix here and there. It is a sparkling gem on a four diamond record, and Victoria has never sounded better. Aching and heartfelt vocals married to lovely music is a match made in dream pop heaven. “Sparks” starts off like a School of Seven Bells piece, but moves away from that sound with an almost prog rock feel from the keyboards. It makes its way slowly and gracefully through your head, where it will stay lodged for hours. I also like the way they added slightly distorted guitar to the mix, letting it fade in and out at will. “Space Song” is classic Beach House, instantly evoking not only their past releases but also diving into that deep pool of vintage pop that defines their sound. “Beyond Love” has a slow chugging beat with loud guitar pumping it up, and when Victoria’s cool, elegant voice drifts in, it is pure nirvana.

I like the clock like percussion on “10:37”, along with the lush keyboard washes wrapping themselves around Victoria’s beautiful voice like a cloak. “PPP” is stunning work from start to finish, it has a watery texture to it and comes as close to perfect dream pop as anything I can imagine. Plus it builds to some cool slide guitar! “Bluebird” starts with a click track and a somber feeling, but Victoria once again elevates the song to something special, her voice can be so magical and soothing. And finally, “Days of Candy” begins as acapella with perfect harmonies and reminds me strongly of sacred music, with Victoria’s splendid alto and the layers of backing vocals and quiet piano. Just a perfect ending to this year’s most beautiful record.

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

17 Aug 2015

Kingdom of the Holy Sun "The Return of the Sun Kings"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Finally someone has recognized the brilliance of Guido Anselmi's psychedelic tribe and sorted out a vinyl release for them, after several excellent digital releases. (To clarify, many have already recognized said brilliance, but not been in a position to 'vinylize' it).

The label in question is Dead Bees Records (also responsible for what we reckon was last year's best shoegaze release, from France's Dead Horse One), and their timing is brilliant, as "The Return of the Sun Kings" continues the trend of each release from these guys being exponentially better than the last. Logically there has to be a limit as to how much each release can kick the previous's arse by, but there's no signs of it yet.

"The Return of the Sun Kings" sees Anselmi channeling the Lizard King's shamanistic tendencies into a captivating set of anthemic paeans. But far from coming off as a Doors rip-off, or even just an affectionate homage, Anselmi develops and leads these canticles into realms that one suspects Morrison would have happily ventured into, had he not been directed elsewhere by the other three Doors members.

"The Return of the Sun Kings" is a wonderful thing. Expertly sequenced and paced, it's front-loaded with the hookier, more pop-friendly material (pre-release track "Getting Higher", the ridiculously catchy "The Sun Kings"), before the second side gets into the really interesting stuff - droning, tribal pieces which recall the Black Angel's early material, with the garage clamour toned down.

I've right thrashed the digital promo of this, and the vinyl release will certainly be on my shopping list. Check out the Bandcamp page below, where you can download the first track for free as a taster, or pre-order the vinyl release which is due around the 1st of September:

15 Aug 2015

The Bachs "Out of the Bachs"

Reviewed by Josh Robertson

The latest offering from Guerssen's Out-Sider imprint is here: "Out of the Bachs" by the Bachs - a Chicago-based high school group who released this LP in 1968 with a press count of only 150. Its reputation is fierce, and it's highly regarded as one of the best garage albums of all time. Let's take a closer listen and see what all the fuss is about.

Things start kicking with the R'n'B influenced "You're Mine", which I honestly thought was a cover because the melody is so familiar it seems as if it was a radio hit. These guys must have been live favorites in the area and it's shocking to think they were just teens when this was recorded. When I first stumbled upon "Out of the Bachs" I was immediately reminded of how big of an influence they must have been on Ariel Pink - he seemed to have a knack for obscure, "Acid Archives" style private presses to draw from, which was evident by his cover of "Bright Lit Blue Skies" by The Rising Storm, another late 60s highschool group. The overall feel of such tracks as "Minister to a Mind Diseased" was the first clue in. It's all about driving fast and living dangerously, the kind of stuff any 18-year old fantasizes about, yet it has a mature flair which also gives a sense of foreboding.

The lads really knew how to write some minor key melodies and "Free Fall" is another one of my favorites. There is tambourine and upbeat percussion throughout. Even though the band parted ways shortly afterwards, this LP leaves nothing to be desired. I wouldn't go so far as to call this psychedelia but the band really stretched, and I definitely detect some Beatles influences. There is just a dance-hall, beer drinking, R'n'B, flair that sets it apart from your typical frat-rock/teenbeat album.

Out-Sider has really brought this out of the depths of sketchy reissues and unofficial releases. As always there's informative liner notes and excellently mastered sound. I would definitely say this lives up to the hype and anyone who likes 1960s rock with a love of melody should enjoy this - yet another Acid Archives favorite appears out of the shadows of obscurity!

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

14 Aug 2015

Belladonna Bouquet "Wortcunning & Starcraft"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A hugely comprehensive and consistently superb compilation of all the existing material from wyrd folksters Belladonna Bouquet, this release has been a labour of love for label owner Roger Linney who has persevered over the course of years in sourcing and collating every last song of the bands that is still in audio existence. A double album running to an impressive forty-one tracks the collection spans from the now long lost debut cassette release 'Bile And Daffodils' to the remaining, existing tracks from their sophomore effort 'Scarlet Ceremonies' album to an unreleased third long player 'Wortcunning & Starcraft'. From the band Sarada Holt went on to become known as a part of Pennsylvania's Stone Breath and Jenne Micale as a solo artist under the name of Kwannon (and whose albums are well worth seeking out). This is a hugely impressive and historical release; for fans of psyche folk, in particular Stone Breath, this is required listening. Bewitching and beguiling, these songs curl around the listener like candle smoke.

The tracks from the debut release have their own distinct charm; slightly lo-fi yet filled with a dark, icily beautiful atmosphere and layers of ethereal vocals, chimes and echo it reminds this listener of the glorious heyday of the 4AD label, of artists such as Dead Can Dance, Xymox and This Mortal Coil. 'Anatha', for example, is a witches chant of layered vocals that is utterly spellbinding whilst 'Broken Skies' adds swirling, wailing synths and Xmal Deutschland attitude. 'In The Morning Glories' is a spectral nursery rhyme with a spoken word interlude that recalls Rose McDowall's work. Yet no-one quite sounds like Belladonna Bouquet, perhaps due to having two artists of such singular vision and creative talent. One is struck by the sheer inventiveness at work here; flanged vocals, layered harmonies, otherworldly percussion, acoustic reverie, all wrapped in shades of gothic psychedelia.

The 'Scarlet Ceremony' album, professionally produced, shines further dark and light into the strange and wondrous world of the Belladonnas. 'Nuit and Geb' is an accordion backed dreamscape of Eastern tinged vocal harmonies and shadowy acid folk whilst 'She Sits Upon Hedges' adds ominous strings and vintage keyboard squalls with a pulsating bassline to frame quite the strangest and most macabre tale you will hear. 'As Dark As Her Eyes' adds a Banshees sheen with flanged guitar underlying some truly incredible vocal performances, whilst 'What The Thrush Said' introduces flute and mandolin to create a medieval madrigal of utter and sinister loveliness.

The third part of this illuminating and enthralling release finds Belladonna Bouquet as a threesome as Kim Nickisher joined to play djembe and bass on the previously unreleased 'Worcunning & Starcraft'. You can hear the band developing over the scope of these three recordings but the sheer sense of musical exploration and creativeness (and unearthliness) remains a constant. Belladonna Bouquet were to split before it's completion and this album gives an insight into what was lost and what could have been; it is a startling and incredible piece of work. Containing elements of experimental, goth, psych, medieval and ethereal music this is essential listening for fans of Miranda Sex Garden, Kate Bush, the afore mentioned Dead Can Dance and Katherine Blake's work. 'Los Parades' is a highly effective dulcimer backed piece of gothic plainsong whilst 'House Of Peace' adds the sound of water to its mystical baroque melodies to create a music quite unlike anything else. 'Dreams' is a ritualistic, percussion led procession, finger cymbals counting time as the band create a universe of sound that is entirely their own. One can only wonder where the band would have gone next, what reveries they would have produced had they remained together.

Available now with beautiful artwork provided by Sarada this is an incredibly impressive and immersive release. You can lose yourself in the spellcasting and incantations of the band almost indefinitely, such is the power and beauty of this music. A very welcome release of true hidden treasure, let yourself become bewitched amongst the black flowers of Belladonna Bouquet.

CD available here. Stream a few selections below:

13 Aug 2015

John Baker "The Vendetta Tapes"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Trunk Records' revelatory collection "The John Baker Tapes" was a hugely important collection, drawing attention to one of the most important, but less celebrated members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. While other members of the Workshop were gifted technicians, Baker came from a musical background, and was able to master the tricky art of tape splicing, combining these two skills in a way that no other Workshop member was able to.

While working on "The John Baker Tapes", Alan Gubby discovered several reels of tape containing incidental music of Bakers from the 1960’s BBC TV series ‘Vendetta’ - a mafia themed cop thriller starring Italian actor Stelio Canelli. Best remembered now for its memorable John Barry theme tune, it's unlikely that many have heard the music contained on these tapes since their original broadcast, as many of the original episodes were junked by the BBC (as was common at the time).
Thrillingly, thanks to Gubby's efforts, we now get the opportunity to, thanks to this excellent release on his own Buried Treasure label.

Available on vinyl, or CD with ten extra tracks, "The Vendetta Tapes" is a fabulous artifact from a time when it was possible to ignore the boundaries between genres, and exciting new creations were a daily event (or so it seems in hindsight from someone who wasn't around at the time).

Baker's tape loop alchemy is at its best here, with weird droning soundscapes sounding like they'd be better suited to a spooky sci-fi making an immediate impression, but there's much more to "The Vendetta Tapes" than this alone. The majority of tracks feature live jazz instrumentation - live drums, flutes, saxophone, and possibly double bass (although I wouldn't put it past Baker to have been able to synthesize this somehow). The resultant blend of spooky electronically treated drones, and hepcat cool-jazz is seamless, and truly one of its kind.

The wind instruments take flight in swinging cues intended for chase sequences and action scenes, but "The Vendetta Tapes" is at its most revolutionary when ramping up the tension with moody atmospherics that rely equally on staccato electronic stabs and ominous flutework.

This is a really great find - amazing to think that things like this still languish in the vaults. Time for someone to go digging again, to see what else they can find from this particularly fruitful period.

You can pre-order the 36 track CD version here, or the 26 track vinyl version here. Due August 21 - sounds like pre-orders have been heavy for the vinyl version, so get in quick or it'll be gone!

Buy the digital version or stream here:

12 Aug 2015

DRINKS "Hermits On Holiday"

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

The press release states, “Drinks is a solo project, not a collaboration. It has… one mind and four legs.” Listening to the album, and hearing how little it sounds like either Cate Le Bon’s or Tim Presley’s previous work, the bizarre statement starts to make sense.

Le Bon’s distinctive, instantly recognizable sound comes thanks to her smoky, thickly accented voice, and her sinewy, disorienting guitar work. While, in his work with White Fence, Presley has proven himself a master of the nuances of classic psychedelic music, both as a producer and as a songwriter. But, as DRINKS, the two have blended—seemingly melded minds—to create a cohesive new sound that fans are not likely to be able to attribute to either artist.

Opening track, “Laying Down the Rock” kicks off with a simple, slightly odd Le Bon riff, before Presley’s affected English accent pipes in, sounding like Syd Barrett wandered into the wrong recording studio. Some minimal percussion and an acoustic guitar try to push the song forward, while Le Bon’s staccato electric riffs gently nudge the whole thing slightly off its axis.

The energetic “Focus On the Street” follows, sounding like Television Personalities on a particularly drunk night.

Le Bon’s first lead vocal shows up on “Cannon Mouth,” pumped through a trem/oscillator to make her sound like Siri’s European cousin. A 1950s approximation of “Space Age Music” sets the scene, but not the kind of Space Age Music that would be played at a bachelor pad; more like pop music from outer space.

It’s oddball twist after whimsical turn as the album motors along, despite a couple of tracks flirting with or eclipsing the 6-minute mark. Each song has something to grab your attention, particularly the title track, with its woozy stop/start rhythms, evolving into something close to danceable, but not quite.

The most-arresting track has to be “Tim, Do I Like That Dog?” It’s pretty much nothing but a single fuzzed-out guitar, playing no melody in particular, over pounding toms, scattershot percussion, and a pulsating bass line as Cate periodically intones the title phrase, with varying inflections. Tim answers her once or twice, “I don’t know,” as Cate continues to puzzle over “that dog.” It’s 6 and a half minutes of insanity that shouldn’t hold your attention the way that it does, but somehow manages to do so on the strength of charm, alone.

By the time the album wraps up with “Time Between” (not the great Chris Hillman-penned Byrds song, but another seemingly tossed-off original), momentum is slipping and it’s just about to overstay its welcome. But then, the song ends and so does the album. Just in time.

There is a spontaneity here that is impossible to fake; one can hear ideas being developed as the tape rolls. And while it’s all a bit amateurish, it’s in the best possible way. This is music that is being made for the pure love of making music; loose, ragged, charming (there’s that word again), and alive.

And while "Hermits On Holiday" didn’t leave me wanting to throw it on again as soon as it ended, it did leave me wanting to come back and visit sometime soon. I’m smiling just thinking about it.

"Hermits on Holiday" is available here (UK), or here (US).

11 Aug 2015

Future Disguises "Alma Mystic Society – A Collection of Songs 2013-15"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The début album by Future Disguises (aka multi instrumentalist Brian Ruark) emerges from the shadows of previous tantalising snippets posted on soundcloud. This full length opus is at turns ambitious, mysterious and utterly immersive, shape shifting from dark electronica to folk tinged psych to Floydian atmospherics. One thing is certain however; this needs to be heard.

Opener 'Alma 01' has shades of Angelo Badalamenti's 'Twin Peaks' soundtrack in its hazy, disconcerting keyboard drift and drone, a woman's voice intoning 'look away' over glitchy percussion before a disembodied voice asks 'is there a hidden dimension that swallows up the unwary traveller?' as electronic strings swell and rise into a 'Saucerful Of Secrets' style vintage keyboard odyssey. The question could indeed be equally asked of this absorbing album and its listener. Reminiscent of some of Nurse With Wound's more ambient (but still disturbing) work this is an epic and pleasingly disorientating Through The Looking Glass dark dreamscape. Next 'Alma 02' begins with acoustic guitar and an angelic choir both pastoral and soothing, before echoed electronic percussion and disconcerting waves of keyboards enter to spread a tension and drama that fully engages; although frequently instrumental this is not background music by any stretch of the imagination. Instead the album is by turns captivating, descriptive and unsettling. As an example, within this song a cacophony of voices and static then leads into a spooked piano melody accompanied by graceful woodwind. This is music best listened to on the darkest of nights and with headphones; it takes you on its own demented journey to corners of the psyche previously unvisited or dreamt of.

'Concord' is a guitar led symphony of samples, violin, vintage keyboards and barely restrained tension and melancholy; the likes of Thom Yorke would be proud of such a composition. For this particular track Ruark adds his vocals which blend seamlessly with the music into one pulsating and driving whole. 'Ampersand' is an ever growing and building crescendo of shimmering guitar and choral vocals whilst 'Squid Have Teeth Like Old Men' adds reversed percussion and electric hum to an off kilter keyboard melody to create a piece of unsettling, twisted electronica that puts this listener in mind of Aphex twin and Squarepusher. 'Mercurial Pills' reintroduces Ruark's vocals accompanied by those of Kimberly Ruark in one of the most conventional, but no less lovely, compositions on the album. Strident drums and guitars push this track towards the anthemic; it is both stirring and absorbing.

Further explorations into shadowy, psychedelically tinged electronics ('Cola Hyllings Learns A New Spellcasting Technique' and 'Love Me Tinder') sit equally successfully beside tracks layered with violin and electric guitar ('Also Rans' with it's crunchy, Black Sabbath-esque riffs and wraith like vocals is superbly sinister and 'A Tribute To Tragedies' slips from unnerving synthesized surrealism to tidal waves of Godspeed You Black Emperor styled majestic guitar). 'Accidental Char' is like stepping into a David Lynch film, all floaty and woozy discombulation, accompanied by Kimberly Ruark's haunted vocals and disturbing snatches of sampled dialogue. 'Stille Voices' drum click echoes like distant, approaching footsteps and its tense synth lines and vocal incantations culminate in a melancholy, hypnagogic grandeur. Following tracks 'Greetings To Thee' and 'A Day Of Beasts' respectively provide quiet, glistening beauty and a dramatic soundtrack that would fit one of Ben Wheatley's queasily brilliant movies. 'Late In The Day Courtships' and finale ' Spooky Midnight Dream Hop' again both evoke a dream state; samples of voices and Kimberly Ruark's whispers and singing (which must receive a special mention; her contribution provides a ghostly acid folk element that is utterly bewitching) adding a sense that all is not right, that we are not in the usual, known and predictable world here.

This is a startlingly inventive and creative recording. There are countless ideas and twist and turns yet it all feels seamless and, crucially, it has a strong emotive impact that is only added to, not lessened, by its experimental tendencies. Highly recommended; albums of this ambition, depth and quality do not appear that often. Come join the Alma Mystic Society.

Available now on the ever fine Reverb Worship label with individually handmade sleeves and CD labels (each label unique and designed by Ruark) as well as a badge. Strictly limited to forty copies so don't delay; copies are shared and available between the label and Ruark himself at the Future Disguises Bandcamp page (through the sreaming link below).

10 Aug 2015

Sundays & Cybele "Gypsy House"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Joe had plenty of positive things to say about Sundays & Cybele's latest Beyond Beyond is Beyond album "Heaven" a couple of weeks ago, and now this fresh vinyl reissue of their 2012 opus "Gypsy House" from Japanese label Guruguru Brain gives us a chance to delve a little further back into their back history, and unearth an album every bit as worthwhile as "Heaven", not to mention completely different.

While the Sundays & Cybele of today is a very contemporary creature, integrating influences from both the then, and the now, "Gypsy House" reveals a band revelling in the trappings of the late sixties to the extent that it could quite convincingly be passed off as an artifact from that time. 

Group leader Kazuo Tsubouchi has stated in interviews that one of the main goals that he hopes to achieve through Sundays & Cybele's music is an increased awareness of classic Japanese psychedelia, and "Gypsy House" should certainly pique the curiosity of younger listeners, who haev yet to discover the delights of Blues Creation, Speed, Glue & Shinki and the likes. And likewise, listeners who are already fans of those artists will freak out when they hear this.
A six track release, trimmed down from a longer digital release, this more streamlined version of the album is a heavy psych-lovers dream, with an exremely pronounced Jimi Hendrix influence, which I've rarely heard done better, aside from the maestro himself of course. Led by Kazuo Tsubouch's inspired guitar work, these six tracks have an average running time of around seven minutes, but never show signs of floundering. It's rare to hear a record where the jamming is this focussed. 
Tsubouchi's guitar takes the lead here, more often than the vocals even, with "Saint Song"s electric slide playing providing one of the album's most memorable riffs - think David Gilmour's playing on "One of these Days" given a kick in the pants.

Also extremely memorable is the lovely ballad "Into The Broken Seas Again", taking the Hendrix template set down by "Castles Made of Sand" and "Little Wing" and stretching it out in an appeallingly unhurried fashion with layers of backwards guitars, and some lovely lead work that chimes like a bell. Perhaps best of all though is "Waiting For You", a beautiful, and unlikely hybrid of "1983(... a Merman I Should Turn To Be)" with a chord sequence heavily indebted to "Dark Side of the Moon".  Rather than sounding derivative though, it presents itself as affectionate tribute, with lovely cascading guitar lines tying these two disparate strands together perfectly.

Psychedelic guitar lovers will be in absolute Heaven with this album. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Vinyl or digital available here:

And for those who are keen to investigate the contemporary Japanese psychedelic scene further, Guruguru Brain released this excellent, free compilation last year.

9 Aug 2015

Children "Great River"

Reviewed by Josh Robertson

We all know that there's been a resurgence of interest in the music of the mid to late sixties, with a lot of bands channelling the vibes of those old records into a psychedelic music for the modern era, with the help of new technology. Children, a five man outfit from Los Angeles, is certainly one of those bands. "Great River," featured here, is their first album. It's available in a swanky gatefold CD digipack with some cool artwork, and also a limited cassette.

This is laid back, dreamy, smoke-filled music. Overall, it's a of mash of Byrdsy guitar jangle with lots of open spaces, and synthesizer/guitar-laden instrumental interludes. I'm also reminded of the slower, syrupy Vanilla Fudge, and pre-Blue Oyster Cult Stalk Forrest Group’s “California Album”. I enjoy the beachy-surf feel present at some points, with good compositional work, rhythms and chord changes. However it is way more progressive and engaging than simple surf/beach songs, and I feel these guys will really make their mark playing this stuff out on the road.

I'll mention a few of my favorite tracks on here. "Salamander", and "Doowaddadoo" (sung kinda like "Do What I Do") both highlight funky drum/surf guitar parts, and catchy in-between-verses riffs which leave plenty of spaces to jam in between. "Incantation" starts off with psychedelic keyboards, then drums, then guitar and the rest comes in. This layering is a nice touch and this is classic psych-surf, as I see it. "Don't Take All Night" reminds me a lot of Ariel Pink, as the reverb-y tones have that cold-ego-death, out of your body feel. There's a definite longing for strawberry fields like your good old late 60s favorites.

The album was recorded in Mississippi, which means "Great River" in the language of the local natives. I get the feeling these guys have been playing for awhile, as there is not only top notch musicianship here, but a definite chemistry present. Definitely a must hear if you are into progressive dream-surf, with a bluesy old school touch. And be sure to give this album time to sink in, as there is plenty happening below the surface for you to find during a late night headphone listen when it's quiet.

CD, cassette and digital all available here:

7 Aug 2015

Sospetto "Quattro Specchi Opachi"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Previous releases from German band Sospetto have firmly established them as one of the very best Goblin-worshippers operating today. Indeed it's hard to believe that they're not Italian, and that their recordings haven't just been unearthed from some previously unknown treasure trove of reel to reel tapes in a dusty studio somewhere in Rome.

"Quattro Specchi Opachi" is a more ambitious affair then their normal undertakings however, and sets out to prove that there's much more to this band than incredibly accomplished neo-Giallo vibes - although that would be plenty. Originally conceived as four separate E.Ps, "Quattro Specchi Opachi" ( that's "Four Blind Mirrors") eventually became a double LP, with each side soundtracking an imaginary film. The first, "Intrappolati Nel Harem Di Satana" ("Trapped in the Harem of Satan") is a Giallo, and is as accomplished as you'd expect from Sospetto's track record up to this point, but the three other 'films' stretch the band into previously unexplored realms, which complement each other perfectly, while showcasing the versatility, compositional skills, and attention to detail that Sospetto are renowned for.
Behind door number two we have "L'exposition de Genevieve", an erotic  French psycho drama. As you'd expect from that description, there's still the need for suspenseful cues here, and Sospetto deliver these with ease, but "L'exposition de Genevieve" also gives us the chance to view the more playful and sensuous side of Sospetto, with breathy wordless vocals and samba / bossa nova grooves working their way in amongst the sensuous strings and vibes. There's a definite Bruno Nicolai vibe to this set. Lovely.
Next is "Schwarzes Licht" ("The Black Light"), a German horror / sci-fi. Presented as one long suite, this is probably the most psychedelic suite of the set with atmospheric staccato guitar parts, and kosmische synths accompanied by a free jazz rhythm section. Another successful diversion.

And lastly we have "Devil's Cops in Angel County", an American cop thriller, which could so easily have resorted to brassy (but cliched) funk grooves. Impressively, there's very little of that, and when there is ("Law Viper"), it's exceptionally well executed, especially once the groovy flute and organ interplay kicks in.

A cover of Bruno Nicolai's peerless giallo classic "Sabba" (also recently revisited by Orgasmo Sonore, who makes a guest appearance here) rounds things off, reminding us of where Sospetto's roots lie, but also, by not standing head and shoulders above the band's own compositions, showcasing just how strong the band's own material is.

An essential purchase for lovers of psychedelic European soundtracks of the seventies.

6 Aug 2015

Helicon "Gehenna"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

East Kilbride, Scotland's Helicon have released their eighth EP via EXAG' Records. Though only a sampling of their current permutation, “Gehenna” works as an introductory piece for their extensive discography, which dates back to 2011 and includes many of the recurring pieces of the present – though significantly less post-punk in sound, if you're familiar with works like 2012's “Polarized.” On their more recent releases – from 2013 and onward – the band has turned more toward hazy drones and exploratory passages of ambient pop. The five piece recently played dates in Europe with the likes of Dead Meadow, the Underground Youth, and the Warlocks – among others. Like them, Helicon has turned to psychedelia as a basis for instrument experimentation, ornamenting dark and dramatic compositions with bursts of weirdness and lush layers. Each of the EP's three songs were recorded live and capture a bit of the frenetic energy and tension that bleeds from their union of raga, shoegaze, and heavy psych experimentation (see particularly “In a Sad Red Dusk,” which showcases their added sitar player).

“Heavy Black Hole Jets,” the EP's brief centerpiece, has the aural quality of a vast cavern; with sparse, buried vocals – the only on the record – and dense reverb across the soundboard, the song feels as though it might pound away forever at the riff, which intensifies and warbles until its fade out. It appears as well on the band's previous release, 2014's “Disturbance for the Disturbed EP,” though in a different context – between the great “Clusterfuck” and “Going Home.”

The epic closer – at nearly ten minutes - “We're Gaun Tae The Moon” begins with a dense, descending guitar riff and tumbles through, toward a swirling build. With a tight and expressive rhythm backing, the song has enough free form expression and experimentation to carry the length of the long song. Just before its halfway mark, the song is dismantled and reinvents itself, drifting through a flurry of effects and ornamentation, providing the perfect close to a promising continuation of Helicon's output.

The EP is available in digital formats and limited edition 12” vinyl from the label or the Helicon Bandcamp page.

5 Aug 2015

Machine est mon Coeur "Dystopium"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Machine est mon Coeur (roughly translated: "the machine is my heart") inhabit an appealingly moody world on their debut album. The duo of Australian Bianca Calandra and Frenchman Gabin Lopez seemed destined to work together after coincidental meetings in both Sydney and Berlin. And so it was that they took fate's hint and decamped to a French country house where "Dystopium" was written, rehearsed and recorded. Despite this idyllic setting "Dystopium" (Dystopia + Opium) sounds very much like the product of a bleak, grey, urban environment. "Lo-fi concrete dark-pop for lovers, dreamers and somnambulists" is how they choose to describe their music, and while that seems to cover an awful lot of bases,they're all here, and more besides.

There's a great analogue feeling to the whole album, with songs built around Calandra's compelling vocals, with Lopez's piano figures hinting at the starkness and simplicity of Portishead's self titled sophomore effort. But where Portishead flavoured their music with down tempo club music, and well placed John Barryisms, Machine est mon Coeur mine a rich vein of vintage psychedelia and kosmische for their textural colours. Witness "Trainwreck", which makes haunting use of squalling seagull guitars ala Pink Floyd's "Echoes", adding resonance and depth.

They've also realised that there's huge potential for what they do beyond their music alone. With this in mind they've cultivated a carefully constructed audio-visual presence with their music, sleeve art, and video clips adding up to a mystique that is much, much more than the sum of its impressive individual parts.

The clip for "Beam of Fire" will give you an idea of where they're coming from, and acts as a perfect introduction to a highly recommended album which, at 31 minutes, leaves the listener wanting more.

CD and digital both available here:

4 Aug 2015

Pridjevi "Pridjevi"

Reviewed by Dedric Moore (Monta at Odds)

I'm always hesitant when I read that what I'm hearing is from a studio session and not a band, but I love bedroom-lo-fi solo artists like Morgan Delt. I think that what makes me anxious is when songwriters work via email, their output can become overworked and overplayed. That is definitely not the case with Croatian psych trio Pridjevi though. This release is a cohesive effort that brings to mind classic chill artists like Bonobo or Blue States or the revered early 18th Street Lounge releases, especially with the jazz overtones appearing throughout. That doesn't make Pridjevi sound dated however, merely an observation as to how they can immediately capture a vibe that is familiar but fresh, straight from the opening bars of the first song, "Ako Je".

What is especially exciting is the sense of exploration, which gives the songs an extra layer of depth. There is also a great confidence that comes through in the songs which shows that the songwriters know what they are doing is working, and you can't fake that. There are swells and builds at the right moments when things could potentially get repetitive, and they know when to end, leaving you wanting more. "Pjesma O Drvecu" is an acoustic driven head nodder that has soul and the right amount of drive courtesy of a great bassline and a fuzz guitar that bounds into the mix right on cue.

We've all heard hundreds of "psych" acts now, with revivals at least one time each decade since the 60s. "Ubila Sam Cvijet" is a perfect example with its acoustic riff, guitar drone, and skittering drum pattern that just keep on moving.

Pridjevi sounds relevant and vintage at the same time. It is also an album that demands your attention. And it earns it through a combination of reverb covered female vocals, acoustic guitars, harpsichord, pounding bass, jazz grooves and a very European-cool vibe. Though intriguing, this description realy doesn't do justice to what your ears will experience. "On Je Jesen" swings heavily with an off kilter piano chording which melds with angelic vocals to sound like a tune from the new "Twin Peaks" TV show.

The album flies by and I've gone through 8 out of 9 songs while writing these few paragraphs. That is how easy it is to get lost in listening to these gems. It's rare I come across an album that makes me stop and just wait to hear what's coming next.

Again, this album has "VIBE" that goes for miles and hypnotic vibes with excellent musical performances that drive on and on into the reverb drenched night.

LP and CD out August 7 from Trouble in Mind Records.

United Bible Studies "So As to Preserve The Mystery"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

It is always a cause for celebration when wyrd folk collective United Bible Studies release a new album and 'So As To Preserve The Mystery' is indeed a recording that is a veritable gift for the listener. With a back catalogue of silver flecked gems already in their wake (such as 2014's 'Doineann' and 'Spoicke', or 2009's 'The Jonah') this new album continues the outfit's pursuit of rough hewn beauty and windswept otherworldliness. The collective this time around include some well known names from the experimental and folk worlds such as Michael Tanner (also of Plinth), David Colohan (also of Raising Holy Sparks), Richard Moult, Alison O'Donnell (Mellow Candle/The Owl Service) and Áine O'Dwyer, whose solo album 'Anything Bright or Startling' (search it out) is one of the most stunning releases of the last few years. Recorded between Ireland, the Western Isles of Scotland and the south coast of England 'So As To Preserve The Mystery' is an album that sings of the landscape, the elements and of the vast skies above.

Opener 'Tossing The Daisies' is a shimmering sunset of a song, gentle rattles of guitar and hushed cymbals holding the tension behind Alison O'Donnell's spectral vocals. Strings and piano emerge but their strength is in restraint, the song is perfection in its glacial and spooked simplicity. Next, 'The Place Of Bays' introduces O'Dwyer's harp, soft washes of keyboard and Colohan's distinctive and evocative vocals. Orchestral swells and an unearthly choir build and peak until analogue keyboards gradually fade the track out; this heartbreaking and wind torn lament is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. Indeed, this is music that has more ambition, emotion and creative blood in its ancient veins than just about any other act at work today; trust me, you must hear this. 'Teampall Mholuaidh' returns O'Donnell to vocal duties accompanied by the haunted harmonies of Aine O'Dwyer (who adds a wonderful ghostly sheen to a number of tracks), layered psych guitar, choral strings and cascading harp. Like watching a storm out at sea this feels both equally thrillingly stirring and shiver inducing. 'Deireadh Fomhair' is a mellotron and string soaked quiet howl into the horizon, harp and piano glistening across sombre drones as the wind begins to whistle and sweep around the music itself. These are sounds that will break your heart. 'Winistre' begins with the sound of church bells and bowed strings before the buzz and hum of guitars and bouzouki enter, the maelstrom growing like a swarm of swallows around the gentle acoustic plucking. Tension is raised and released and raised again, as if on the swell of the waves or on the wind itself. Mixed male vocals begin a folk rhyme as the swell recedes, reminding us that at its heart this is traditional (albeit experimental) music, until the strings and guitar come crashing in in a heart stopping moment of sheer perfection.'An Gort Gan Geata' is more reflective and hushed, Colohan's voice framed by icy, twinkling drones and flute, evoking something of a longing, of places remembered and known. This segues into 'Islands', a wintry ballad that builds upon layers of keyboard and dramatic string stabs before the light begins to fall to dusk and a wash of warm, shimmering, silvery drones cover all that is there. It is absolutely breath taking.

The album is described as 'in support of heartfelt paeans to nameless gods, apocalyptic requiems for the new/old world, and an overwhelming sense of wonder at the natural beauty of Éire and the Western Isles' and it succeeds admirably in its quest. Quite simply this is one of the best albums I've heard not just this year but in a long while. A beautiful sadness and nostalgia permeates the album and it is an incredibly powerful listen, despite its relative finesse and gentleness. There are not many acts who can conjure such wild, open landscapes in their music, with such emotive impact and sensitivity, yet United Bible Studies do this time and again. Essential.

Available now on CD at the Deep Water Acres website with beautiful artwork and photography by Richard Moult adorning the sleeve.

Stream it here: