30 Nov 2015

The Besnard Lakes - The Golden Lion

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

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

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

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

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

29 Nov 2015

The Telescopes - Splashdown The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exceptional stuff that requires and rewards obsessive listening.

Available here (UK) or here (US).

28 Nov 2015

Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Review and interview by Tom Sandford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about the Byrds’ influence on the band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vinyl, CD and digital all available here:

27 Nov 2015

Brian Jonestown Massacre - Pish / Mini Album Thingy Wingy

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

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

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

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

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


26 Nov 2015

Nous Sommes Paris

While we have no desire to introduce politics and religion into the mix here at the Active Listener, sometimes these things can't (and shouldn't) be ignored.

So calling in a few favours, and generally working ourselves into a bit of a tizzy, we've spent the last week furiously emailing around and compiling this massive, 35 track collection, which is yours for a steal at only $10 (or more if you can afford it). All proceeds will go to the French Red Cross in their efforts to aid the survivors as well as the families of the victims of those affected by the incidents in Paris on Friday the 13th of November.

Thanks first and foremost to the artists who have kindly contributed to this collection (as well as their labels, management and publishing companies). We'd have nothing to offer without their generous contributions, and they've been very patient with my erratic correspondence. They've provided some great music, much of which is previously unreleased or very hard to come by. We're humbled by their generosity.

And thanks also to Matt Talbot for his thoughtful and tasteful cover image.

Here's the impressive track listing:

1. Courtney Barnett - Ode To Odetta 02:46 2. The Sufis - Different Views 02:42 3. The Phoenix Foundation - I Want More 04:19 4. The Limiñanas - Wunderbar 02:31 5. WJLP - Sunrise 03:21 6. Violet Swells - Gravity Wins Again 03:08 7. Sudden Death of Stars - The Void 04:13 8. Kontiki Suite - I Wish 03:20 9. Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders - Misty Dreamer 02:32 10. The Green Pajamas - The Jailer's Song 03:59 11. Soft Hearted Scientists - Midnight Mutinies (Home Demo) 05:15 12. Brown Recluse - Silver Lake 03:51 13. Wilding - Evalina 03:14 14. Eerie Wanda - Volcano Lagoon 02:54 15. Bat Faced Girl - Straight In My Heart 01:54 16. The Magnetic Mind - Stay Away From The Door 03:01 17. Sky Picnic - Upon Further Reflection 03:23 18. Eric Lichter - Slicing Through My Thumb 04:22 19. Nick J. Morfitt - Embryo 04:13 20. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - The Wild Ride of Ichabod Crane (Dandelion Radio Version) 02:52 21. Cornershop - Let The Good Time Roll 02:26 22. The Luck of Eden Hall - Twelve 05:09 23. Kanoi - Mountains Of The Sun 06:45 24. Orgasmo Sonore - French Gainsbourg 03:27 25. Alasdair Roberts and Debbie Armour - Come, My Darling Polly (2015 Version) 04:07 26. Emily Jones - Light Appearing 01:45 27. The Diamond Family - A Raven 05:43 28. The Ilk - Jacques Bonsergent 02:50 29. Katje Janisch - The Yew Tree (Resurrection) 04:17 30. The Sound Of The Shires - Judy Fly 03:58 31. The Sigmaticle Tour Green - Star Gazer 02:57 32. Keith Seatman - It’s Now Time to Let Go 04:47 33. Polypores - Man With Antlers 06:08 34. Jim Griffin - After a Walk in The Country 03:53 35. The Hare And The Moon - Come Unto The Corn 04:26

Please give generously and share around as you can. Merci beaucoup.

25 Nov 2015

Gareth Davies - Dawnlight Reflections

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While there can be no doubt that the internet has caused a lot of damage to the music industry as a whole, it's also provided 'the little guy' with numerous opportunities that he wouldn't have had in the old-fashioned industry; an industry where it would be unthinkable for a New Zealand based writer to be covering a Welsh artist on an Austrian label, yet that's what we're looking at today.

To the artist on hand, Gareth Davies is an ex-metaller who now makes vintage sounding acoustic folk music very much in the mold of Nick Drake and John Martyn, although Davies material is all performed solo with just an acoustic guitar and his own double tracked vocal, which betrays a more contemporary edge that often reminds me of the vocals from Candidate's unimpeachable "Wicker Man" tribute "Nuada".

"Dawnlight Reflections" is very much a continuation of last year's excellent "The Spirit Garden", and while you'd expect two solo acoustic releases in such a short space of time to start sounding samey, a couple of listens will certainly show that this isn't the case. The songs themselves are strong, and lack obvious hooks, relying instead on Davies' dexterous guitar playing (the ghost of "Pink Moon" looms large over "Spectral Horizon"), with its lovely sustained notes, and carefully applied vibrato, not to mention his soothing, brittle voice.

While it'd certainly be interesting to hear Davies' songs augmented with some double bass, and drums - given the full Ryley Walker treatment - this particaular set of songs aren't found wanting for the absence of this treatment, with Davies' hushed vocals suiting the intimate setting perfectly.

Another extremely strong release from Davies. If you're a fan of the artists mentioned within, vintage progressive-folk, or even the quieter moments on Opeth's albums, you'll find much to enthral here.

The lovely CD version is available here (as is a bargain package including the also essential "The Spirit Garden"). You can also download the album on a 'name your price' basis here:

23 Nov 2015

This Week's Quick Links

After a five year break The Coral have a brand new album available to pre-order.

The Resonars previously unreleased second album is now available on Bandcamp.

Here's a bunch of great clips of the first Fairport Convention line-up performing live for TV. Time Will Show The Wiser. Morning Glory. Reno Nevada.

Emitt Rhodes is crowdfunding a new album.

Lush are set to release new music.

Here's the new David Bowie single.

Jarvis Cocker and members of Portishead and Goldfrapp are taking part in a live tribute to puppet master Gerry Anderson.

22 Nov 2015

Cumbias Chichadélicas - Peruvian Psychedelic Chicha

By Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Originating in the coastal region of Columbia, Cumbia music spread across the South American continent, and even up into Mexico, mutating and changing with each mile. It’s a music that was made for dancing… with a brisk 2/4 time signature all but forcing the listener to move. And, sometime in the late 60s in Peru, Cumbia mutated into Chicha: the psychedelic cousin of Cumbia that can be heard in this collection.

Although not overtly psychedelic, Peruvian Chica can change your headspace very quickly. It’s all rock instrumentation, with a strong emphasis on guitars, and the occasional waves of echo and wah-wah giving the music its psych flavor.

Sure, we do hear the occasional horn section like you might expect to hear in some Mexican mariachi bands, or some wood block percussion, or even some slithery tango rhythms. But, even when making its deepest ingresses into more-traditional South American sounds, the music stays psychedelic. Just listen to the heavily processed lead banjo on “Mi Morena Rebekde” by Eusebio y Su Banjo for a perfect example of a how the two traditions meld into one; it brings to the music a sound that is simultaneously of both traditions, and of neither.

If you are one who is turned off by foreign-language singing, there is a little bit of that here, for sure. And you should know that. However, the collection is primarily instrumental. And, with the recordings re-mastered from the original tapes, the instruments all sound great: guitars leap out, percussion pops, and the stereo separation makes for excellent headphone listening.

While, sadly, this reviewer was not able to get his hands on an actual physical copy of the deluxe vinyl reissue*, I do have access to PDF versions of the liner notes and packaging, and I can state with certainty that there is a wealth of information to read, and many gorgeous photographs and artwork to behold within the double LP gatefold package.

It’s a bounty of both great music, and of great history. Dig in!

Available here (UK) and here (US).

20 Nov 2015

Robert Forster - Songs to Play

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'd be hard pressed to pick an Australian band with a catalogue more essential than that of the Go-Betweens, although the Triffids and the Bad Seeds come close. And while the sweet pop hooks of Grant McLennan may be what initially grabbed my attention, it was the clever, wordy songs of Robert Forster that really made me stick around and really dig in.

Forster takes his time these days - this is only his second album since McLennan's passing in 2006 - but he's one of the few songwriters of his era who still actively contributes to his legacy with each release, rather than simply using that legacy to ensure a few sales to a dwindling fan base.

Beyond catchy as hell opener "Learn to Burn", "Songs to Play" isn't an immediate album, but fans know to expect this. Forster's songs develop, and wind their way into the listener's consciousness through a witty, Dylanesque turn of phrase here, a repetitive VU style riff there, with hooks that gradually insinuate themselves, until you discover that every note on the album serves a purpose and fits exactly where it should as part of Forster's masterplan. This being the case I was a little underwhelmed on first listen, but a week later I was convinced "Songs to Play" was one of the best thing's Forster's ever done - an opinion I seem to share (see Uncut's review for example).

Forster works best with others, and on these recordings he's joined by a band that includes members of Australian psychedelic rockers the John Steel Singers (who also co-produce), as well as members of his own immediate family, and he's never sounded more confident or at ease.

"Learn to Burn" is an early attention grabber, but there's plenty more to raise eyebrows, including "A Poet Walks" which sounds very much like a "Forever Changes" outtake with its propulsive acoustic guitars and simple, lyrical trumpet solo, and "Let Me Imagine You", a jangly nostalgia fest which wittily examines the mystique-destroying side effects of the social media age.

Forster's at the top of his game here, maturing gracefully, with even the more slight numbers boasting memorable guitar hooks, and the sort of sly, grin-inducing lyrical asides that you'd expect to find on a latter day Dylan album. I was hanging on every word.

For those yet to investigate Forster's work beyond the Go-Betweens, this is the place to start.

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

19 Nov 2015

Video Premiere - Lovebyrd "Shot From The Sun"

We first covered German psych-pop band LOVEBYRD back in February, when their debut was released on cassette and digitally on Ongakubaka Records.

They've attracted a lot of attention since then, and have just released their album on vinyl through new Netherlands based label Hairy Records.

Today we're happy to be premiering the video for their excellent single "Shot From The Sun" (which you can still download as part of the Active Listener Sampler 29). 

The video was directed & edited by artist Yoshi Sodeoka, who has previously directed videos for a wide range of artists including Tame Impala (Elephant!), Yeasayer and Psychic TV.

Check out the video here:

Vic Mars - The Land & The Garden

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Hold the front page! We have the latest of late entries for the coveted record of the year in 2015. Read on dear listener, read on…

Clay Pipe Music is a micro-label run by the outrageously talented illustrator, Frances Castle from her base somewhere in East London. She is incredibly discerning in her choice of artist to champion and is willing to match their artistic endeavours with her own, creating the most sublimely beautiful packaging for their art to be received by the wider world. Therefore, to be on Clay Pipe means you are special (for instance Plinth, Jon Brooks and Sharron Krauss all undoubtedly fall into that category) and so I was understandably stoked to receive a copy of this to review.

So to the record in question. Vic Mars has previously been responsible for composing some fine hauntological/electronica pieces of work, all analog synths and flashbacks to schools programmes of the 70’s and 80’s. Much of it is great and you should check out his bandcamp page for evidence of my truthsay.

However, “The Land and the Garden” is an altogether different beast. This is hugely ambitious and beautifully realised, neo-classical electronic/organic chamber music with mellotron (and associated ‘natural’ tape hiss) at the centre of much of the action going on. This is the sound of memory – a psycho-geographical survey of his British homeland largely dreamt up when Vic was way out east in Japan. Part real, part myth, part imagined and refracted back through the looking glass of time. This is no derivative, niche hauntology offering.

The record (it's out on vinyl) is a complex concept piece that operates on several levels, to create a mood of yearning and barely hidden nostalgia for an England that may in truth never have existed. It’s a collection of sonic essays that drink from a hugely diverse number of rich musical fountains such as early 20th Century UK classical composers like Vaughan Williams or Benjamin Britten - the spectre of ‘The Lark Ascending’ is never too far away from my thoughts when listening to this record, or the earlier ground-breaking work of Dvorak and Mahler. There are also references to the post-war optimism that filtered its way into the documentary soundtracks of the 1950’s and 1960’s; and even 70’s BBC TV kids favourites Fingerbobs and Bagpuss. The other influence would appear to be Brian Eno and his run of plainitive piano/keyboard led ambient records from the late 1970’s as often delicate and contemplative piano figures drive much of what is contained in these grooves. As a series of musical reference points this is the equivalent of a ‘Royal Flush’ to my ears and the alchemy exercised by Vic Mars in synthesising this into a coherent whole is impressive. It’s a delicious melange of styles that intoxicates the listener and evokes strong non-specific memories of time and place. Its gentle but never soporific; sentimental but never maudlin. It's a beaut.

Vic Mars invites you to come along with him on a journey across the ‘lost’ countryside and coast of Britain in all its colour and grandeur; its agriculture and beauty. Picking out highlights from the 14 wonderful vignettes within is a fairly pointless task - it most definitely should be heard in its totality but since you asked, “Villages, hamlets and fetes” with its lovely circular mellotron motif with ‘oboe’ counterpoint and major chord changes is a particular joy. You can almost smell the country air oozing from the speakers. “Butterflies, bees and other insects” is a distant relative of Belbury Poly’s “Geography of Peace” with its flutes and acoustic guitar strumming leading us out across the countryside, past the old church and into the mind meadow. Lovely.

The mournful, closing “Bracken and grassland” with its dreamlike piano figure and sympathetic (synthetic?) vibraphone and oboe accompaniment is exquisite. As it subsides into silence we look up to see that the blackbirds have gone off to roost, the tractor is back in the shed and the sun has disappeared behind the distant, rolling hills.

“The Land and the Garden” is a wonderful achievement - a beam of sunlight through a broken cloud mass, a field of reeds swaying gently in a meadow lea, an acknowledgement that life may be slightly absurd but it is ultimately a pursuit that can still beguile and hold many treasures. Vic Mars is in a beautiful place out in the country. Share in his wonder.

As with all Clay Pipe releases it is strictly limited to 300 numbered copies so the advice is to not hang about. Available from the Clay Pipe website or sympathetic stockists.

18 Nov 2015

The Fresh and Onlys - Early Years Anthology

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

San Francisco garage rockers The Fresh and Onlys have unearthed a collection of oldies for our listening pleasure, Recording now on Castle Face, fans should know what to expect with this release. Lo-fi garage rock with trippy elements and a wall of reverb, along with well-executed and fun songs. The band refers to this as a collection of basement tapes, so let’s run with that. I have enjoyed the past few albums from these guys, but have not delved deeply into their catalogue. I suspect you can drop the needle anywhere, play spot the influence, or point to another song that resembles these early recordings. Or, like me, you could just enjoy it as a standalone release without a frame of reference.

Starting with “Tongue in Cheek” with some bottom dwelling guitar, it morphs into a cool garage riff on the bridge. And then we have the organ-driven “Don’t Look Down”, which is one of my favorites here. “Seven Directions” is joined by harmonica a few minutes in, along with some fun harmonies, and must be a treat live. “Summer Wheels” sounds like a great lost 60s tune from a Nuggets collection, while “Sunglasses” beckons us down to the beach. “I’m a Puppet” has some way cool harmonies and some trippy elements, and “Deviants Within” is even crazier, with all sorts of studio trickery and slightly creepy voices streaming through the mix. “Ooh I Got Got” actually reminds me of Spirit, mostly due to the similarity to Randy California’s playing. “Stranger In My House” is also great fun, which leads up to the final track, “Pile of Bones”. It moves a bit slower, with some hazy psych blues throughout.

Recommended for all fans of garage rock who enjoy a bit of silliness thrown in.

Available here (US) and here (UK).

Wanna hear it? You can stream the whole thing here at COS.

17 Nov 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 38

Here's this month's sampler, featuring some of our favourite tracks from albums we've reviewed this past month, as well as a few surprises, including the premiere of Garden Gate's "Moonchild", from their forthcoming album which we are very, very excited about.

This month we feature the art of Fredrik Wandem on the sleeve, and the following fab tracks:

1. Garden Gate - Moonchild 03:09 2. Moonwood - Trans Mojave Express 04:40 3. The Seventh Cyrkle - Beginning...The Seventh Cyrkle 03:03 4. Verma - Kaskal / The Journey 03:12 5. Lovebyrd - Magnetic Levitation 02:59 6. French Exit - Glass Doors 02:34 7. The Wellgreen - Summer Rain 03:08 8. Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders - Yesterday's A Waste Of Time 06:32 9. Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet - Headways 05:19 10. Mystic Brew - Space Is The Place to Be 05:23 11. The Dead Astronaut - Skyboat Reprise 06:52 12. The Roaring 420s - Keep Me Sane, Mary Jane 05:16 13. Maddy Marsan - Armour 04:22 14. Blind Slime - A Place Elf-Haunted 02:44 15. Radar Men From The Moon - Neon 11:16

Free downloads welcome (as always) and any donations very gratefully accepted towards our running costs. Get it here:

Verma - Mul.Apin

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Verma’s “Sunrunner” (2014) put Chicago-based space rockers, Verma, on my mental map. Since then – along with instrumentalist / vocalist Whitney Johnson’s project, Matchess – my copy has been subjected to daily repeats. Fortunately, the band already had a few releases, fueling a stronger affection for their often improvised records, high quality experimentation, and general blurring of synth-heavy – and occasionally just regular heavy – psych, shoegaze, and Krautrock aesthetics. This month, Verma – once again, by way of the great Trouble in Mind Records – unveils “Mul.Apin,” which is a sort of return for the band, finding itself again pounding through long-form compositions and favoring mood, atmosphere, texture, rhythm over traditional structure – though, even within these structures, their in-studio improvisation sounds untethered, while “Sunrunner” put a larger emphasis on song structure and Johnson’s voice (see, in particular, “Chrome). Composed of five long takes – Side B is a single, sixteen minute track, “Gal.Damhara / Last.Battle” – “Mul.Apin” has much more in common with their Trouble in Mind debut, “Coltan” (2013).

Like most of Veram’s releases, there’s a consistency that makes the album cohere in a way that many do not. According to TiM’s write up, “Mul.Apin” sets forth to do this a bit more purposefully than the last, confirming a listener’s suspicion that each track is plotted carefully. Mul.Apin is the conventional name given to the Babylonian star maps for astrology and astronomy, so each track acts, at least conceptually, as a mile marker against the void of space. Of course, in the end, these are simply wonderful excursions into sonic richness, but, if it helps to understand them otherwise, there’s a truth to that as well. So let “Nerebu / Overture” build and the motorik “Kaskal / The.Journey” pulse on.

As has become expected of Verma and Trouble in Mind Records, this one is highly recommended. 

“Mul.Apin” is available directly from Trouble in Mind Records webstore, or from Amazon US or UK.

For those readers who are looking for an introduction, check out the band’s Bandcamp page for a few excellent “name your price” or free downloads and streams of earlier releases.

And here's a sample of one of "Mul.Apin"s tracks:

16 Nov 2015

The Secrets - Infatuation: Singles and Demos 1966-1968 / The Mickey Finn - Garden of my Mind: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

We've got a couple of new releases today from two of Cherry Red's very fine labels, Grapefruit Records and RPM. Both labels are renowned for digging up excruciatingly rare, and often unreleased gems from the sixties, a well which should be well and truly dry by now, but is miraculously still giving.

First up is "Infatuation: Singles & Demos 1966-1968" by the Secrets, a young UK combo largely relegated to footnotes and factual tidbits that mention Clifford T. Ward's involvement as leader, and the fact that he wrote future UK psych masterpiece "Path Through The Forest" (popularised by The Factory) whilst a member of this group. Little that has been previously written would suggest that further investigation was necessary, yet this packed to the gills 28 track collection is a compelling document of exceptionally well written sixties pop, which on occasion suggests a poppier UK counterpoint to Arthur Lee's early material, minus the political commentary. Ward's vocals are often a dead-ringer for Lee's, and there are similarities in the minor key jangle that can't be shaken off, once noticed.

Psych influences are mild here, but the flavour of the era is inescapible and those with a thing for extremely melodic, well crafted sixties guitar pop will swoon over this collection, which includes both sides of each of their five singles, as well as a raft of unusually worthy demos and studio outtakes, including two quite different takes of Ward's classic "Path Through the Forest", which, despite its legendary status, can't compete with the earworm immediacy of "Keeping My Head Above Water" and "Naughty Boy". Exceptional.

Less consistent, but equally interesting is "Garden of my Mind", the first retrosopective collection from the Mickey Finn, which features the massive title track (a favourite of collectors everywhere), earlier and later singles (one produced by Shel Talmy), and previously unheard demos - 17 tracks in all, apparently everything recorded by the band in its many guises.

The earliest material here (recorded for ska label Blue Beat as Mickey Finn & The Blue Men) is a little uneven, although mod / ska fans will no doubt enjoy. Much more intersting is their R&B/beat period, which the majority of this disc chronicles. It takes a lot to distinguish yourself in this field, but there's no doubting the fact that the Mickey Finn had that star quality, yet somehow failed to crossover into the greater public consciousness, despite some of the toughest performances put to tape in the era, with some wild harmonica moments, and gritty vocals providing the most eyebrow raising moments.

In all fairness there's little else here that sounds like or matches their legendary garage psych single "Garden of My Mind" - there's little out there by anyone that does - but for those interested in tracing the evolution of popular UK music of the sixties from ska, to mod to beat/R&B to garage psych to psych-pop via one pocket sized compendium, this will prove to be a fascinating listen, with above average performances from a band that couldn't quite settle on their own sound, but could have potentially hit big with any of those that they turned their hand to.

The Secrets - Infatuation is available here (UK) (US), and the Mickey Finn's Garden of My Mind is available here (UK) (US).

15 Nov 2015

Shadow Folk / Sunny Beaches - Split LP

Reviewed by John Knoernschild

This new Shadow Folk / Sunny Beaches Split LP is an album that takes you on a journey from the 60s to the 90s.

It’s great to hear a new band that brings back the 60s-70s era vibe. Shadow Folk, hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, completely surround themselves in this for their half of this new split. It’s hard to hit that “sound” from the 60s-70s. The feeling of our time just isn’t on par with what was happening fifty years ago. But sometimes something special happens, and that vibe can still be tapped into. It's happened here, enveloping the band and flowing into every song. Influences from David Bowie to The Pink Floyd can be heard during thir half, and while they're clearly trying to capture a certain sound, The Shadow Folk have made it their own.

Also hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sunny Beaches is a 4 piece band led by Keith Doiron. They take over on the second half of this split LP. Their side gets a bit grungy. The soft vocals are traded in for heavy distorted ones. The bass gets more punchy and distorted, while the rhythm guitar stays about the same, showing that that sound shines in any era of music. It’s like we jumped straight from the 60s to the 90s, invoking the grunge and indie rock sound of that era, mixing them together to create a sound of their own. Even the guitar solos ring of the 90s. It’s like Cake had a baby with Alice in Chains and they named it Sunny Beaches. Then, sometimes, Beaches’ friend Syd Barrett comes over and picks up a guitar, with a unique sound coming from this creation.

Overall, Shadow Folk/Sunny Beaches Split LP is a great album, showing that two bands with quite different sounds can get together and create something special, if they share a vibe and a mindset.

Name your price download available here:

13 Nov 2015

Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet – 2

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

The press materials that accompanied Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet’s second album claim that the band pulls a strong influence from the Ethiopian funk of the 70s and 80s. While I am certainly hearing those influences in bits and pieces, I am also hearing a lot more.

“Praise One” opens with some spacy, atmospheric synth and percussion, but then the full band kicks in with a groove that is reminiscent of the Thrill Jockey post-rock bands that came of age in the 1990s. However, the horn interplay looks back to Sun Ra’s Arkestra of the mid 70s, with some fine unison playing and mad electric piano that flits about in the background like an insane hummingbird. And I mean that as a good thing.

“Praise 2” begins with a loping country waltz that exposes the band’s Bakersfield roots. But then, in comes the Farfisa to turn that sound on its ear. Some nice clean-tone guitar melodies follow to reinforce the country vibe, and then warp it, making way for a slightly tipsy-sounding horn section. A shift to 4/4 around the 4-minute mark, and we are back into jazzier territory, with saxophones squawking over the off-time syncopation of the rhythm section, disappearing any hint of the earlier country music sound.

“Headways” brings some of that great, shuffling funk stutter referred to in the press materials, but nonetheless has an almost Salsa-like feel at times. The track kicks off with some weird, spacy synth that sets up the main theme, and is then joined by some very psychedelic wah-guitar that helps the synth carry the main load. Soon enough, however, the sax comes in and flies off the deep end, setting up some great band interplay. A psychedelic wah-guitar solo peels off from the main theme, building and expanding on it, in the best of the jazz tradition.

The album ends on a romantic note. “Cosmic Loneliness” has shades of Sonny Sharrock’s more lyrical moments with Pharaoh Sanders. The saxophone and guitar compliment each other in a wobbly walk together down a crookedly melodic path. Then the distortion drops off the guitar for a quick foray into 60s space/surf rock, only to be interrupted by party crashing horns. All jazz, all day, but mostly all night: smoky and sexy, like the soundtrack for a soft-focus Hollywood love scene.

In all, the influences are so varied that it’s a difficult sound to pin down. For the listener who just wants something pleasant to play in the background, this is an album that can fit the bill, and you can let it simply float pleasantly by. But the groove can transport you, too, if you let it, and for the more-attentive listener, there is enough substance to provide greater rewards with each listen.

Available directly from the Trouble in Mind webstore, or from Amazons US and UK.

12 Nov 2015

Blind Slime – Sour Triangle EP

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

West Virginia native J Adams, has been releasing creepy instrumental music under the moniker of Blind Slime since at least 2009, with newest release “Sour Triangle” pushing more of my buttons than ever before.

It’s hard to describe what Adams does, as he doesn’t fit neatly into any particular niche. There’s no doubt that his music is deeply influenced by vintage horror scores, but it’s larger devoid of the obvious Carpenter-core influences, although his music would certainly fit very comfortably in the master’s movies. There’s also a psychedelic element at play which manifest itself through insidious, hypnotic repetition, rather than going for cheap thrills with phasers and reverb.

The title track is an evocative wee gem, conjuring images of Autumnal leaves being blown through lonely suburban neighbourhoods. Imagine that John Carpenter wasn’t the synth master that he is, and that “Halloween” had been scored by a full band instead, solely from Carpenter’s notes on the sort of mood he was wanting to create: this is that soundtrack. “A Place Elf-Haunted” does little to dispel this illusion, introducing a dark carnivale theme that heightens the listener’s sense of unease.

Adams makes good use of a varied palette of sounds on “Sour Triangle”, with plenty of vintage keyboards and synthesizers, sparing and effective use of percussion and arpeggiated guitars forming the basis for the majority of these pieces, with “Hill Prayer” adding a layer of backwards tapes and what sounds like a mellotron to create a woozy air of not-quite-right, which will stay with you long after this impressive EP has closed up shop.

Available to download directly from the Blind Slime Bandcamp page for a pittance:

11 Nov 2015

The Radiation Flowers - S/T

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Formerly Powder Blue (previously covered here and here), The Radiation Flowers – hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – follow up two excellent releases with a new name and a self-titled record. From the near eight minute pedal gazing opener “Sunfire Drug Haus” through the sprawling and moody closer “Lead Me Tonight,” The Radiation Flowers aren’t looking to necessarily reinvent themselves but push their well established sound to its fullest potential – and, in my opinion, they’ve taken a big step here, playing to their more mind altering elements and grunge roots.

“17” has a hook (as well as a release) like every song that I have ever loved, every song that ever spoke to me as a teen: gritty, garagey– familiar. The guitars are dense as they establish the song, but the band’s layers – tight rhythm section, soaring leads, and wonderfully slow and deliberate airy vocals – send the riff off the rails, toward some wonderful melding of shoegaze, psych and 90s era lo-fi rock.

While there are plenty of hits seemingly left off from some decades old jangling garage record, there a few quick burning psych tunes that tie this outing together. “Psychic Attack” hits hard and fast. Yet somehow there’s room in its short two minutes for a raucous guitar lead and yet another powerful vocal delivery.

Admittedly, I have a weakness for self-proclaimed “grunge” bands; an internal angsty teen of long ago gets excited every time the tag appears on a Bandcamp page – and sometimes unexpectedly. The Radiation Flowers takes all the wonderful elements of the genre and add a few other favorite, mixing up a gauzy slice of rock ‘n roll that tips its hat to the old and new inspirations.

Highly recommended!

“The Radiation Flowers” is available in digital formats from their Bandcamp page below, as well as on CD here.

10 Nov 2015

The Green Pajamas - Death by Misadventure

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've reposted this from it's original 2012 CD review and release, as Sugarbush Records have just released a very limited run (250 copies only) on green vinyl - get in here before it's sold out.

It's doubtful whether there are any other acts out there who have amassed as impressive a body of work, while reaching so few as Seattle's long running Green Pajamas.

One of my intentions when setting up the Active Listener  was to share music that I felt hadn't received the exposure it was due, and the Green Pajamas were one of the very first bands I had on my agenda. And this seems to be a common theme - you've either never heard of the Green Pajamas or you're an obsessive, devotional fan. They seem to be the type of band that brooks no middle ground.
"Death By Misadventure" is their thirtieth release, and predictably it's a marvel. It's taken me a little longer than normal to put together this review, as the Green Pajama's albums take a little time to digest properly. They have an initial appeal that is so immediate that you feel like you know the album almost straight away, but further plays reveal deeper levels and other hooks previously unsuspected, meaning their albums go from good to great with a little familiarity.

Following on from the country rock detour of their "Green Pajama Country" album, this finds them heading back to more familiar territory, with a few nice surprises along the way.

The first half of the album is a concept song-cycle called "The Fall of the Queen Bee" - which ostensibly may sound like a fairly boffiny concept headed for failure and even tedium. Once run through the Green Pajama filter though even the most unlikely subjects act as a springboard for the quality songcraft of Jeff and Eric. From the McCartneyesque power ballad "Ring around the Sun" to the exotic gypsy waltz of "The Queen's Last Tango" this is fine stuff, and in the tradition of all the best concept albums, is best enjoyed without trying to follow the somewhat dubious storyline.

The second half, "Cruel Dreams, Cruel Things" is made up of unconnected songs that find the Pajamas continuing to do what they do best, namely tuneful acid-pop laced with inspired guitar work, harpsichords, a playful sense of English whimsy not heard since the late sixties, and naturally, choruses that sound like they've been plucked from some great undiscovered songbook in the sky.

Business as usual then for the Pajamas, and probably about time you discovered them for yourself, hmmm? There's no need to be embarrassed, it's never too late.

Also available on CD here ( U.S ) and here (U.K ).

Howling Larsons - Midnight Folk

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Howling Larsons, Alan Trench (Orchis, Temple Music, Twelve Thousand Days, Cunnan) and Rebecca Loftiss (The Gray Field Recordings), released their hypnotic and highly recommended début ‘Fool of Sound And Furry’ on the Reverb Worship label in 2013 to significant acclaim. Describing their sound perfectly as ‘nouveau occult psychedelia’, Howling Larsons ably merge and collage exquisite acid folk, dark psychedelia and experimental ambience, with both Trench and Loftiss having a close and masterful acquaintance with these genres in their other bands and guises (and if you haven’t come across the incredible and atmospheric Gray Field Recordings or the intricate psych folk of Orchis before do delve in without hesitation). The Larson’s stunning new release ‘Midnight Folk’, available previously as a CD issue distributed via the band and label Reverb Worship and containing a unique art print, is now out on cassette and digital release from Belgium’s Wool-E tapes and provides a perfect opportunity for both newcomers and the initiated to descend into the beautiful and mysterious shadows that are created within the Howling Larson’s singular universe.

'Ragged Ritual' opens the album in an alluring haze of organ, the buzz of treated voices and Loftiss's poetic incantations. Finger cymbals punctuate the growing clamour and intensity as the vocals become more ever more beautiful, choral and drenched in reverb. Effectively setting the mood of this unusual but transfixing recording this first track illustrates perfectly Howling Larsons' skill and ease with mixing the experimental with the melodic and memorable. 'The Butcher Boy' is a drifting slice of psych folk treasure, both Larsons harmonising with each other on vocals over a haunted and delicately fingerpicked acoustic lament. Next, 'Sound Of Light' combines tense and sombre guitar with cello, recorder and spectral vocals that recall some of the finest songs of acid folk masters Midwinter and Stone Angel (and indeed Orchis themselves); skeletal and wind torn this is folk music at its most spooked and bewitching. The track fades into the wail of solar storms, a perfectly atmospheric and fitting finale. 'Telescope' is a strident spoken word and sung piece by Loftiss, cello and electric guitar weaving and winding its way ever forwards into the enclosing darkness. Mention must be made of the intricate and at times baroque arrangements that add a sophisticated and timeless beauty to the album; indeed both Trench and Loftiss perform everything on this album themselves. 'Goat Song' is an eastern raga, wild recorder trills and the sound of esoteric stringed instruments providing a perfect frame for Trench's vocals whilst a cover of Pink Floyd's 'Matilda Mother' is a dreamily gorgeous psych wonder; again Howling Larsons stitch drones, experiments in ambience and truly psychedelic moments together with carefully crafted melodies and exquisite song writing. 'Beach Flute Song' is a perfect example of this; echoed vocals stretch over strings and woodwind in a pleasingly disorientating and utterly compelling fashion. There is something truly dreamlike about this album, almost hypnagogic. The songs feel like they exist at the liminal edge of wakefulness and dreaming; there is a familiarity in their harmonies but also a surreal quality to the sounds and atmosphere contained therein. This only enhances the albums enjoyment and accentuates its unique quality.

'Mask Of Winter' adds synth, backwards percussion, chimes and slide guitar to a gentle, otherworldly ballad with Loftiss's voice curling around the music like a soft flame. 'Landfall' utilises backwards voices and sounds that unsettle in just the right way as a descending guitar and cello line create a wintry and crystalline loveliness that reminds this listener of Backworld and In Gowan Ring, both fellow travellers in the world of wyrd folk. Indeed fans of IGR's work (as well as aficionados of Stone Breath) are well advised to acquaint themselves with The Howling Larsons. A splendidly twisted cover of 'Time Of The Season' follows before 'Stone' enchants with its reverberated acoustic warmth and melancholy. Closing track 'Midnight Folk' employs an orchestral passage that plays over a droning hum, drum crashes and a nursery rhyme style vocal melody. It is at once beguiling and also apocalyptic, beautiful and eerie, not unlike the album itself taken as a whole.

‘Midnight Folk’ needs to be heard. It is rare to find music infused with such creativity, ambition, emotion and vision, yet those qualities are here in riverfuls on this wonderful album. A plea from this listener; do not let this fine release slip by, your life and music collection will be the poorer for its absence. Stay up late, spend some time with The Midnight Folk.

9 Nov 2015

French Exit - Jerk Store

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

French Exit's chief creative force, AJ Griffin, has served time in a number of highly regarded Elephant Six affiliated bands (Laminated Cat, Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System), so it should come as no surprise to discover that French Exit's debut "Jerk Store" is a warped, melodic indie-pop gem.

There's a distinctly Beatlesque flavour to a number of these tunes, particularly noticeable in the vocal melodies, which have that Lennonesque gift of bypassing the obvious, yet still ending up with a cracking melody which will stay in your head for weeks. The other obvious touchstone is Elliott Smith, although that largely seems to be down to Griffin and Smith having absorbed and filtered the Beatle bible in a similar fashion. Check out the way that the piano and vocal combine on tracks like "Glass Doors", which sound as if they could have been lifted straight off of a slightly more psychedelic "Figure 8".

And just to proove that they can do more than just achingly melodic pop given a kooky twist, there's the brief interlude "Piano Jazz", which boasts a lovely melody that carries something of the haunting, and haunted quality which you'd expect to emanate from a distant room in the empty Overlook hotel - fans of the Caretaker will be particularly at home here.

But diversions like this aside, the album's main strength - apart from woozy, left of centre arrangements - are those gorgeous vocal melodies, which strike an immediate chord with the listener, without revealing all of their secrets in one go, almost as if the songs are evolving to meet the listener's needs for repeated listening. I can tell that I'll be listening to this a whole lot more.

CD and digital available here:

8 Nov 2015

Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders - Chrome Cassettes

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Many people (although not me, sadly) are familiar with Daniel Wylie’s early foray with the Cosmic Rough Riders, the celebrated album "Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine". That vaunted album was released on Alan McGee’s short lived Poptones label, and was followed by two top 40 UK singles, an appearance on Top of the Pops, and sold out tours of the UK, Europe, Japan, and the US. Daniel Wylie has reactivated his original band name for this fabulous new release, "Chrome Cassettes". Not only that, but "Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine" has been reissued digitally on November 6th with 25 extra tracks which include the "Deliverance", "Panorama" and "Pure Escapism" albums plus B sides. But let’s focus on this brand new release, which was co-produced by Johnny Smillie and recorded on a shoestring budget.

The album is chock full of power pop, psych, and folk goodness, replete with chiming guitars, stunning harmonies, and all the best elements of these genres that a fan would expect. The opening salvo, “Yesterday’s a Waste of Time” is six and a half minutes of blistering power pop and a searing guitar solo from Johnny Smillie. The beautiful “A Beautiful Sunrise” starts out like a long lost Love song, before meandering into Jose Gonzalez territory, with gorgeously plucked guitar and a sterling vocal. “I’m Out of My Mind” is upbeat, sunshine pop (can anyone say hit?), while “Misty Dreamer” is more downtempo and contemplative. “Dark Forest” slides into your senses, entrancing you with its inviting main melody in waltz tempo. Fuzzed out guitar joins the acoustic guitar and leads you out on a high note. “You’re Predictable” has an in your face melodic punch with a psych backdrop, leading into the Byrdsian pleasure of “Another Wasted Day”. If this is your cup of tea, then you’ll be delighted not only with this song but the entire record. There are hints of many 60s and 70s artists, but Wylie puts an original spin on what could be a tired genre with extremely well-written and played songs, coupled with a really great voice. “Some Great Messages” slips into autumnal folk territory, a realm which Wylie should visit more often as he does this so well. “I Follow You Home” sews together exquisitely crafted melodies with great harmony vocals. “I Should Disappear” closes the album and marries psych folk elements seamlessly together.

All in all, this is a great release that should not be missed by fans of 60s psychedelic and folk music.

Available directly from Daniel via the Cosmic Rough Riders Facebook page, or digitally here.

Matricarians - Rainthinking

Following on from last week's release of the new Kitchen Cynics album "Common Blue" comes its sister album, "Rainthinking" by Alan Davidson's group project Matricarians. They're a slightly more experimental outfit than the Kitchen Cynics, but all of Davidson's hallmarks are very much in evidence.

We're very proud to be able to release these two albums on the Active Listener Records imprint, and recommend them both to any forward thinking fans of psychedelia, folk, and experimental music.

You can stream or download "Rainthinking" here:

BEAK> / KAEB - Split

Reviewed by Dedric Moore (KC Psych Fest)

For those who haven't been paying attention, BEAK> is Geoff Barrow from Portishead's Krautrock three-piece. And so are <KAEB, although the material on side two here, credited to <KAEB is a little different to BEAK>'s normal fare.

From the very first beat of "The Meader" things are more expansive, and yet essential BEAK> elements remain as the groove gets funky, the vocals more melodic, but the frequency-stripped production and Krautrock vibe is still intact. "The Meader" pushes straight ahead, albeit with a swagger. The minimal guitar work adds a rhythmic loop that locks in with the drums and signifies a new confidence in what BEAK> can accomplish within the construct of their signature sound. "The Broken Window" starts off as if it is something from Barrows' soundtrack work of late and then drops out to reveal a simple bass melody that sounds like it comes straight from a post-punk b-side circa 1982. We're talking a groove that would be played on repeat as you stared at the posters on your wall and wished you could be cool. The bass line transitions into a full groove and the synth melody creeps in with a steady focus that leads the song into bliss, a bliss that unfortunately ends too soon as this one could have filled up an album side on its own.

Flip the record and things change. "When We Fall" is a psych-folk tune with pitch-bent guitar and synth that is guided by dual vocals. It's a pleasant tune that makes it exciting to see what else may come to fruition under the <KAEB moniker.  The EP ends with a dark strange one, "There's No One", which comes across as if it was sampled from Portishead's second album - not unusual considering Barrows' association with both bands. Jonwayne features as a guest rapper/spoken word beat poet with the song growing into the sort of avant-weird that Can would drop into their albums.

It's a fitting end to an EP that fits neatly into, and expands upon the aural world which BEAK> has created over their past few releases.

Vinyl available here, with digital available through this streaming link:

7 Nov 2015

Moonwood – Desert Ghosts

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Moonwood have come a long way since Jakob Rehlinger’s first solo Moonwood release in 2007, with latest opus “Desert Ghosts” being the most fully realised release in an impressive catalogue.

Adding vocalist / synth wizard Jacqueline Noire in 2009 was just the beginning, with the band now sporting the impressive rhythm section of Matthew Fava (bass) and Luca Capone (drums). There’s always been a sort of Krauty space-rock element to Rehlinger’s music, but now that he can ditch the loopers and rely on a real, live rhythm section this is taken to new levels.

Split into two side long suites (with five distinct tracks per suite), “Desert Ghosts” is a concept album that explores the vast, open spaces of the American desert on side one, and parallels that with the desert world Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s popular “Dune” novels on side two. It’s a suitably grand setting for music this expansive with plenty of exotic, Eastern themes winding their way in among the driving guitars and cosmic synth washes.

Capone’s solid, metronomic beats (Neu! Fans, prick up your ears), provide the perfect backdrop for the band’s explorative expeditions, offering a precise framework that helps even the most improvised elements of the band’s music retain a structure that the listener can keep up with. And then there are the moments where the rhythm section drops out completely, leaving Noire’s wordless vocals and Fava’s serpentine violin parts to take centre stage, with spine-tingling results.

There’s a perfect balance struck here between the explorative, the hypnotically repetitious, and a more structured play on conventional songcraft, which makes this a thoroughly unpredictable ride which challenges and rewards the listener in equal measure, while evoking the desolate, open stretches of its source material with apparent ease.

Kudos to the cover artist too – not too sure who’s responsible for this, but it’s not often that you find a sleeve that so perfectly encapsulates its contents.

Vinyl and digital available here:

5 Nov 2015

dbh - Mood

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Its always nice to mooch around the internet and find yourself signposted to a great new find. Such is the situation that arose when six-string explorer, Nick Jonah Davis tipped his FB friends off about this new release. "Mood" by dbh is the first physical issue on Manchester indie label, Thread Recordings and the second release by the artist known as dbh. You will be pleased to hear that it's a cracker.

"Mood" may give some of the game away with it's informative title but there is much that lurks beneath the many changing moods on display in this collection of 11 tracks recorded by guitarist/ multi-instrumentalist from Manchester in England, Dan Bridgwood-Hill. What unites them is the mastery displayed of the wordless narrative (it's entirely instrumental) and perceptive use of musical contrasts. "Mood" absorbs UK folk, American 'field recordings' and ambient/drone sound scapes to deliver a tapestry of sonic delights that is very much the domain of its author and executor.

Opening with a left-right combination of eerie synth soundscape "Kard Loop" and serpentine guitar exploration "Shed Light", (the latter with its outro managing to be reminiscent of both 'Hallway of Mirrors" by Alexander Turnquist and bizarrely "Blue Jay Way" by 'you-know who you'), the initial exchanges of 'Mood' lead you down a pathway of shady glades, half-seen vistas and misty hollows.

And then - sunlight! "New Anthem" is one of those beautiful sun-dappled acoustic guitar turns that always has you checking to see whether there are any birds at the bottom of the garden and has you wishing you lived in a cottage on the North Yorkshire Moors rather than suburban London. Deftly executed, like pretty much everything on this outing, its a real heart-warmer. "Untangle the Jig" follows bringing evening in its wake with its lovely revolving guitar motif and 'Take 5' brushed drums. It gives the listener the opportunity to get some of that great dbh guitar playing - intuitive and conversational; the many refrains and motifs presenting the listener with an engaging wordless dialogue before vamping out under a pink moon (and a metronome). Absolutely bang on.

'Blues for the Read Sun' is Ry Cooder duking it out with William Basinski as delta swamp riffs are enveloped in decaying layers of fidelity in a striking fashion. Without the sonic treatment it could be 'Paris, Texas' ; with it you have a menacing, distorted bayou of sound that fades into the impenetrable distance. I believe it's dedicated to the memory of genius Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn (RIP).

Side 2 (track 6 digi-fans) brings us up for air with the lovely 'Defy/Win' which manages to stride both sides of the Atlantic, invoking as it does both sweeping American plains and quiet English backroads. Its sweet guitar picking and tasteful harmonium accompaniment breezing along, charming the listener with its playfulness. "Bog Dance" follows and is another lovely 'porch moment' expertly delivered on unaccompanied guitar with the occasional twang for good measure - a close as dbh gets to delivering a hoe-down. Though I suspect dbh may frown at me for saying so.

"Low C" is my personal highlight on the record with its endlessly tumbling guitar notes pealing downwards, saved from certain doom by a blanket of beautiful pedal steel and a feather bed of understated drumming. The way the song with its drowsy atmosphere and closing flutters of distortion and decay segues into the brief and genuinely surprising piano splashes of 'Think' reminds this reviewer nothing less than the cine-music of Barry Adamson's ground breaking 'Moss Side Story' (consider this praise indeed) another son of Manchester. That good.

"New Angles" mines the kosmiche/hauntology seam to perfection with its gently perambulating melody tracking an elliptical orbit around a sympathetic drum pattern whilst violins hover beneath clouds of harmonium ( I believe). Not a million miles away from the kind of organic and progressive dreamscapes purveyed by the Boards of Canada ; or even the more reflective moods of the Brian Jonestown Massacre come to think of it. Very nice indeed.

Matters are brought to a close by the gently swaying "Revelation Drift"; which may feature banjo, definitely features electric guitar and tape hiss, and undulates indolently on a sparkly sea for its four minute stay. A compelling sound picture. In fact, I half expected a seagull to appear at my window to offer its help in completing this review for you all.

So there we have it - an excellent sophomore effort. On a new label that has set the bar high for itself. Set your watch and remember the day you heard it first. dbh is looming on the horizon. Catch the mood.

Available on limited vinyl (250) and unlimited digital through Thread Recording via bandcamp and select stockists.

Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Californian folk troubadour Elyse Weinberg has been someting of an underappreciated musical gem until recently. Elyse only released one record under her real name, her self-titled debut album, which hit # 31 on the Billboard charts, prompting an appearance on the Tonight show. Cher even recorded one of Elyse’s songs (“Band of Thieves”) for the 1969 film "Chastity", but the song was mistakenly credited to Sonny. This led to only minor success in the years that followed before Elyse decided to change her name to Cori Bishop.

Fast forward 30 years and the discovery of her music by Andrew Rieger of Elf Power. He brought her music to the attention of important people, and along with that attention came critical acclaim, with bands such as Vetiver and Dinosaur Jr. covering her song “Houses”. And now we have a first ever release of her unreleased 1971 album "Greasepaint Smile". The album was produced by Neil Young’s engineer David Briggs and features a very young Nils Lofgren on guitar. Hearing Elyse’s accomplished singing and playing, very much in the vein of Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention with a bit of honky tonk and dancehall vibe, it’s hard to imagine this not being a hit back in the day, had it been released.

There are wonderful songs like the aforementioned “Houses”, where Neil Young plays guitar and where Elyse channels the late Sandy Denny. Or how about “City of the Angels”, which is prime late 60s folk rock with a backing band that almost sounds like CSN? “What You Call It” is more in the confessional, Joni Mitchell vein so prevalent back then, but Elyse rises above it with good lyrics and a hint of blues behind her folk. “It’s Alright to Linger” might well be a lost classic from The Band and has that honky tonk piano I enjoy so much. “Collection Bureau” is a nice slice of bluesy folk with tasteful guitar licks, while “Gospel Ship” trips down the country blues lane frequented by the Stones (“Sweet Virginia”). “Nicodemus” is another fine bluesy number with harmonica and piano tightly winding around Elyse’s husky vocals. The remaining songs, including the title track “Greasepaint Smile” dwell in the same musical vein and underscore what a fine talent this singer/songwriter is. It's great to see this become available finally.

Recommended for all fans of late 60s folk and blues.

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