31 Dec 2011

The Rowan Amber Mill - Midsummers - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

The Rowan Amber Mill - Midsummers ( 2009 )

Deserving of far more attention than they're likely to ever receive, The Rowan Amber Mill are one of the U.K's best kept secrets.
Drawing from the same well of acid folk inspiration as kindred spirits The Owl Service, The Rowans operate on a decidedly more earthy level. They call their music Woodland Folkadelica and that seems to be a pretty fitting description.
Midsummers is marketed as a mini album, clocking in at around 35 minutes and is probably the best starting point for the uninitiated.
Their arrangements feature mostly acoustic instrumentation, layered with washes of subtle, textural keyboards, which I expected to feel out of place but are mostly pretty unobtrusive and add to the atmosphere.
Their line up has shifted around somewhat, and is at it's strongest here with multi instrumentalist and Rowan's brainchild Stephen Stannard joined by the wonderful Kim Guy on vocals and Terrey Stacey on drums.
They set out their stall right away with a lovely, dark pagan version of Sumer Is A Cumen In, a traditional ballad used to great effect in the Wicker Man, and improved upon here. It's reprised several times - once as a jaunty medievale carnivale piece which is the albums only misstep and again in a more
moody, mostly instrumental mix with creepy hushed vocals. Lovely.
Elsewhere, Stannard's own compostions are just as strong, with Blood and Bones leading the pack and sounding like a lost piece of late 60's acid folk rock, along the lines of Trees or Mellow Candle. Greenwood is a moodier vocal piece, inspired by the wonderful czech film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and again showcasing Guy's wonderful vocals.
Another highlight is Midsummers where over the background ambiance of a crackling fire, snippets from the previous tracks drift in and out of view like dreams.
Blood and Bones (2009) by The Rowan Amber Mill

They've since released a full album, which is also great, and I'll write about later and Stephen, now solo is working on more new material.

You can buy their recordings very cheaply directly from them here : http://www.millersounds.co.uk/

If you like this you may also like :
The Owl Service - a Garland Of Song
Candidate - Nuada

28 Dec 2011

Radiohead - Putting Ketchup in The Fridge ( How Do You Sit Still? )

It's been a good time for Radiohead fans lately, with two rare 80's tunes appearing online ( listen here ), a new single and it's b-side ( The Daily mail / Staircase ) starting to circulate online ( listen here ) and now allegedly a previously unknown Bends era outtake has just starting doing the rounds.

The unfortunately titled Putting Ketchup in the Fridge is also known as How Do You Sit Still? and purports to be a demo recording circa The Bends / Pablo Honey, sourced by either someone close to the band or someone who works at EMI depending where you read about it.

Wherever it comes from it's an emotive slow burner - think Fake Plastic Trees or Stop Whispering.

Some doubt it's authenticity, but it sounds like the genuine article to me. And the bottom line is, it's really good so does it really matter if it's not Radiohead? It's one hell of a lot better than those saxed up 80's demos.

Check it out below and let us know what you think :

Dog Age - Get Out The Sun Is Shining - Have You Heard This?

Essential back catalogue tracks you have to hear - posted weekly.

Here's a great piece of Beatlesque sunshine psych pop from Norway's Dog Age who I rate as one of the very best neo-psych bands around. You can find it on their wonderful 2006 album Reefy Seadragon which is the ideal introduction to their back catalogue.

I've decided that the facebook page is a better medium for the Have You Heard This? feature so all future entries will be on there instead of here on the blog. Please like us on facebook ( link is at the top of the page on the right ) if you want to keep up to date with these.

27 Dec 2011

The Felice Brothers - Mix Tape - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

The Felice Brothers - Mix Tape ( 2009 )

The Felice Brothers have amassed an impressively large back catalogue in a fairly short space of time.
As well as their four widely distributed studio albums, there is also a multitude of self released albums and E.Ps for the discerning listener to track down, with Mix Tape being the easiest to find, and in my opinion, the most rewarding.
Released after Yonder Is The Clock, this was initially reported to be a collection of outtakes from that album but actually turns out to be the results of a whirlwind two day recording session, put together to alleviate certain financial problems.
Originally only available at shows, it's now sporadically available at Amazon ( click the picture link above ) or can be bought directly from the band's website here.
Although aimed at more hard core fans, I'd have to say I prefer this to the more well known Yonder Is The Clock. Where I found Yonder to be a little meandering and overlong at times, Mix Tape is much more concise and lively - quality winning out over quantity.
It seems cliche now to describe a Felice Brother's song as Dylanesque, but nonetheless opener Forever Green is a lovely Dylanesque ballad that would have fit in nicely on Tonight at the Arizona.

Ahab follows and is an endearingly loose tale of heartbreak comparing Christmas Clapton's elusive love interest to Herman Melville's uncatchable whale.
White Limo ( previously known as Cincinnati Queen ) is an upbeat concert fave which translates well to a studio setting with it's lively Garth Hudson organ. It's immediately apparent why the Felice's often use this as an encore.
Let Me Come Home is a forlorn plea for forgiveness that sounds like recent Tom Waits.
The Captain's Wife starts very loosely and sounds like something you'd hear drifting out of a Saloon in the old west, with some unsettling fairground organ creeping it's way in by the end.
Up next is Indian Massacre, which continues The Captain's Wife's old west preoccupation and if anything sounds even more timeless with it's forlorn fiddle and accordion accompaniment and ragged massed vocals.
Old Song ( also known as 17 Years ) is a sparser proposition, a piano ballad, and a tribute to a lost friend.
Marie comes from the Frankie's Gun school of songwriting with more than it's fair share of memorable couplets.

Closer, Marlboro Man was the highlight of their Daytrotter Sessions appearance and is reinvented and improved upon here here with a much more atmospheric arrangement, and a pretty good attempt to replicate Neil Young's staccato guitar solo style.
Well worth tracking down then, and a suitable alternative for those struggling to come to terms with Celebration, Florida, although you should bear with that too.....

NYC Taper

I hope everyone had a great Christmas.

I'd like to draw your attention to a fantastic music blog that I stumbled across the other day.

NYC Taper is a collective of four tapers who between them seem to go to more live shows in a week than I manage in a year, and their site provides excellent quality recordings of these shows in MP3 and FLAC formats for download.

They make a point of only taping shows by artists who have an existing pro-taping policy or have expressly given permission themselves for the recording to take place, and it's all free ( although you can make a donation if you wish to this noble cause )

The tapers have an agreement with some of the venues which allows them to record directly from the soundboard so there's some pretty flash sounding stuff here - not a muffled dictaphone in sight.

They also provide a full rundown on the recording equipment used for each show, and a full setlist so you can see what you're getting.

Their collective taste is very good - mostly indie / hipster guitar based music.

So far I've checked out shows by Blitzen Trapper and Felice Brothers - both immaculately recorded, and excellent performances to boot.

There's a massive back catalogue of stuff to work through which will keep me busy for months.

They've just put together their essential 25 live moments of the year for download here :

22 Dec 2011

Bob Dylan In The Eighties - Hidden Gems

Following on from last week's Sixties and Seventies feature here's a look at some classic Dylan eighties tracks which have flown under the radar.

Sorry - couldn't find sound samples for the first few tracks...

What Can I Do For You?
Saved is undoubtedly Dylan's most unpopular album. While albums like Knocked Out Loaded are almost universally panned, Saved steps it up one step further and is actively hated by most Dylan fans. The most devout of his born again albums, it's almost entirely a write off lyrically but includes some of Dylan's most intense performances. I'll go on the record as saying that I believe that What Can I Do For You contains Dylan's best harmonica performance. Nuff said.

Foot Of Pride
In the context of Dylan's eighties albums, Infidels is pretty great. But it could have been so much better had certain tracks not been left in the vaults. Blind Willie McTell is the acknowledged classic outtake, but I prefer Foot of Pride which share's it's impenetrable biblical lyrics but ratchets up the intensity on the performance front. Lou Reed chose to cover this at Bob's birthday bash, proving that pre Lulu he was a pretty dab hand at choosing worthwhile material.

Dark Eyes
Tacked onto the end of the incredibly dated Empire Burlesque album is this wonderful gem of an acoustic ballad - the first solo acoustic performance to make it onto one of Dylan's records since Blood On The Tracks, and not coincidentally one of his best tracks since then too.

Band of the Hand
Teaming up with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers was the beginning of the turnaround for Bob's rotten eighties. While the resultant album ( Knocked Out Loaded ) wasn't up to much, this stand alone single and the resultant tour promised a creative renaissance which was to slowly flourish over the next few years.

Rank Strangers
Down in the Groove was still patchy but his choice of cover's material was leading him back to his roots. This lovely acoustic reading of the Louvin Brother's classic pointed towards his fabulous Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong albums from the nineties.

Tweeter & The Monkeyman
The importance of Bob's time in the Traveling Wilburries cannot be overstated. Bob seemed like he was having fun making music again and with the pressure off he came up with this carefree Springsteen pastiche.

Man In The Long Black Coat
Oh Mercy was where things all clicked again for Bob. Don't let the garish cover put you off - this would have been a classic no matter when it was released. Man in the Long Black Coat is a masterclass in atmosphere aided by the wonderful Daniel Lanois.

Born In Time
It's telling that the best track on Under the Red Sky was a  track Dylan didn't think was good enough to go on Oh Mercy. Great stuff but better was to come in the nineties.

20 Dec 2011

Emitt Rhodes - American Dream - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great albums you may have missed

Emitt Rhodes - American Dream ( Recorded 1969 )

Could this be the best contractual obligation album ever?
When the Merry-Go-Round imploded in 1969 after recording only one album, Rhodes took it upon himself to fulfill their contract with A&M Records, and knocked out these recordings with the help of various session men, and the Merry-Go-Round's drummer.
A&M declined to release these recordings at the time, and duly released Rhodes from his contract.
A year later Rhodes released his critically acclaimed self titled solo album on Dunhill Records, treading the same path as his major influence Paul McCartney, by entirely self recording at home ( in a self built studio in his parent's garage ).The album quickly found fans wherever it was heard, and A&M sensing a cash cow released the 1969 recordings as American Dream.
Let's look at the highlights. Apologies for the many Beatles comparisons - they are unavoidable. What makes Emitt's output so special however is how well it stacks up compared to his more well known inspirations.
The album starts strongly with Mother Earth, a big lavish production with full on Beatles harmonies.
Pardon Me is a slower piano ballad with the sort of slightly mawkish lyrics that McCartney specializes in , toeing the line between ridiculous and endearing.
Textile Factory is next, and not a big favourite with fans, but a lot of fun if taken in the right spirit. It's got a country lilt to it, and reminds me of the sort of material Ringo contributed to the Beatles records.
Someone Died is a lovely acoustic number that wouldn't sound out of place on the White Album.
Holly Park and Mary Will You Take My Hand work in McCartney's musichall and calypso influences, before things get a little more dramatic with the wonderfully Eleanor Rigbyish The Man He Was.

I couldn't find any sound samples for this on youtube or soundcloud so you'll have to take my word on how good this is folks. I daresay that if you were to run a files search on filestube.com you may find a match. After which you'll want to go out and buy it anyway.

The original album is out of print but it's included in full on both of the following sets, either or both of which should adorn your shelves post haste:

Click through to buy them from Amazon.co.uk - I'd start with the Emitt Rhodes Recordings- all four of his solo albums on a double CD set for just over ten pounds. A total bargain.

18 Dec 2011

Pram - The Owl Service - Have You Heard This?

Essential back catalogue tracks you have to hear - posted weekly.

Pagan trip hop with free jazz influences? That's what you get with this week's Have you heard this?- a fantastically spooky piece from English weirdo's Pram. 
The moody video suits it perfectly.
From their excellent album The Museum Of Imaginary Animals.

Tune in same time next week.

17 Dec 2011

Bob Dylan In The Sixties & Seventies - Hidden Gems

Bob Dylan is one artist who there's no shortage of when it comes to best of's and compilations.

As good as some of these compilations are, they draw from a huge well, and there are certain tracks that remain undiscovered by those who don't dig a little deeper.

So here's a selection of some of the best underappreciated Dylan songs from the sixties and seventies. I've avoided albums like Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, Blonde On Blonde, Desire and Blood on the Tracks - albums which even the most casual Dylan fan tend to have a grasp on and focussed on works which some folks may have missed.

Tomorrow is a Long Time.
A heartbreaking early Dylan lovesong, originally slated for the cancelled 1963 In Concert LP. The live version was eventually released on Masterpieces and this demo version later surfaced on the Witmark Sessions from the Official Bootleg Series.  There's also an interesting version recorded with George Harrison in 1970 floating around on various bootlegs, and an excellent re arrangement available on various bootlegs of the 1978 Tour Rehearsals.

Percy's Song
An absolutely stunning protest ballad from Bob, recorded for The Time's They Are a Changin' album but inexplicably shelved. Fairport Convention covered it very well on their classic Unhalfbricking album in 1969, but Dylan's version didn't see release until 1985 on Biograph.

Seven Curses
Another excellent example of Dylan's ability to transcend the folk form. Taking a story which had already been the foundation of a number of folk songs, Dylan completely rewrites with plenty of clever lyrical touches to draw the listener in and really connect with the victim's plight. Another Time's outtake , this was eventually released on the Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.

The Wicked Messenger
The whole John Wesley Harding album is essential, with Dylan leading the charge towards counterculture country music, along with the Byrds. Dylan took a lot of inspiration from biblical stories for this album, and this is one of his more interesting allegories.

Peggy Day
Bob's most full on country LP takes a bit of a kicking, but Nashville Skyline is a hell of a lot of fun. And Bob's voice on this album is pure heaven.

Sign on the Window
New Morning has seen a bit of  a revival since The Man In Me was used so successfully in The Big Lebowski, and Sign on the Window is the other undiscovered masterpiece from this album.

Billy 1
Knockin' On Heaven's Door is generally regarded as the essential track from Dylan's soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, but Billy 1's off the cuff charm captures the feel of the movie with more authenticity.

Going Going Gone
From the challenging but rewarding Planet Waves album, Going Going Gone is a desolate piece with a wonderfully impassioned vocal from Bob, which sounds like a precursor to the following years Rolling Thunder tour. Great stinging guitar work from Robbie Robertson too.

Abandoned Love
Another great find on Biograph was this Desire outtake, never performed since as far as I know. Yet another example of Dylan abandoning material that others would see as singles material.

Changing of the Guard
Street Legal's muddy sound has put a lot of people off over the years, but there's a lot of great material to be found for those willing to persevere. Senor has found it's way back into Dylan's live sets and onto a few best ofs, but Changing of the Guard is the true gem from this album, with another impassioned vocal and a great horn led arrangement.

Trouble in Mind
The b-side for Gotta Serve Somebody, Trouble in Mind is another apocalyptic bible thumper, used to great effect in I'm Not There, but not included on the soundtrack and only available now on a German only compilation - Pure Dylan.

13 Dec 2011

Radiohead - Listen To - The Daily Mail - Studio Stream

Fresh from Zane Lowe's BBC Radio show, here's a stream of the finished studio mix of the new Radiohead single.

Thanks to We All Want Someone for the stream. Visit their great site too.

You can watch live versions of this and it's b-side from the forthcoming DVD here :

Marizane - Stage One - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

Marizane - Stage One ( 2003 )

From my Space Waltz post you already know that I'm mad for anything that sounds like David Bowie, and now that the Thin White Duke seems to have sneakily slipped into retirement, it's time to find something else to fill that Goblin King shaped gap in our lives.
Well look no further, this will do the trick nicely.
I originally stumbled across the track "The Devil's Address", back in the early file-sharing days. It was labelled as a Bowie track, and an outtake from Ziggy Stardust to boot. I'd never heard of it before, but having just found the similarly obscure ( and quite wonderful )"The Shadowman", downloaded it for a listen. For a while I was convinced it was actually Bowie - it sounded more like an Aladdin Sane outtake than a Ziggy track, but all the ingredients were otherwise right. The only real reason I had to doubt it's authenticity was that no one in their right mind would have left something this good on the cutting room floor.
After hours on the interweb, I eventually managed to trace it back to this E.P, which was almost impossible to find anything about, let alone a copy to buy.
After much in the way of anguished searching, a copy finally turned up in the post for me.
And man was it worth the effort.
Only five tracks long, but great, great stuff.
The first three tracks ( including "The Devil's Address" ) are all produced and arranged by Tony Visconti ( The Man Who Sold The World etc ). Which makes a lot of sense. The band do a pretty sterling job on their own on the last two tracks.
The tracks generally sound like the Aladdin Sane / Diamond Dogs era - when Bowie was straining at the leash to evolve beyond the confines of Glam Rock.
"Of The Alien Christ" gets the ball rolling with some eerie synthesized Theremin and bursts of Mick Ronsonesque lead breaks, before Todd Jaegar's unmistakable vocals kick in. The lyrics are straight out of the Ziggy / Starman songbook - all glam alien weirdness.
"The Devil's Address" follows and is an anthem which could have been used as an alternate theme for the Velvet Goldmine film.
"Preternatural Baby" references The Man Who Sold The World's "Supermen" and shows a bit of a Queen influence with it's massed backing vocals, before heading back to Bowie country with a quirky recorder solo.
"The Libertine" drops the Bowie template and features a wonderful multi tracked guitar flourish at the end ala Brian May.
"Sad Foolish Robot" is a whimsical finale that brings to mind Hunky Dory's "Kooks" with another playful double tracked guitar solo.
Lovely stuff.
With links to bands like Heart and the Wondermints it's unusual that Marizane have managed to remain as obscure as they have.
The good news is that the e.p is still in print - grab it while you can ( click on the cover to buy from Amazon.co.uk )- you won't regret it.

12 Dec 2011

Mouse & The Traps - A Public Execution - Have You Heard This?

Essential back catalogue tracks you have to hear - posted weekly.  
This week's Have You Heard This is a delicious slice of mid sixties U.S garage, with a distinctly Dylanish Highway 61 flavour. Check out these snotty punks below. You can get it on the excellent Big Beat Records collection The Fraternity Years. It's also included on the original Nuggets Box Set and it's highlights volume.

Tune in same time each week for another essential track.

Radiohead - The Daily Mail / Staircase - Live From The Basement DVD

Radiohead will release The King of Limbs: Live From the Basement digitally on December 19, and on DVD/Blu-Ray in January.

They'll also release two new tracks "The Daily Mail" and "Staircase" as a single on December 19, although at this point it's unclear whether or not this will be digitally available only.

Both tracks were recorded as part of From the Basement earlier this year, and will appear on the DVD.

You can watch the two new tracks below.

The picture on this post of the Daily Mail has been flipped so everyone looks left handed. Odd.

The tracks themselves are great and a return to form after the challenging King of Limbs album.

11 Dec 2011

The Advisory Circle - As The Crow Flies - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

The Advisory Circle - As The Crow Flies ( 2011 )

Jon Brook's Advisory Circle are at the forefront of the Hauntology movement.
Hauntology is as much an aesthetic as it is a musical movement, so it's not the easiest to define. The best definition I've come across is that it's the present being haunted by the sounds of the past. Boards of Canada's Geogaddi album is often cited as the first Hauntological record, but it's the U.K's Ghost Box label that are leading the way now, and this is their highest profile release so far.
The Advisory Circle approach Hauntology via the sort of synth based music that you hear on seventies public information films and English T.V shows of a similar timeframe. For those that find that prospect intimidating ( or tedious ), there's also a touch of Italian proggies Goblin, and side two of David Bowie's Low to hopefully make things a little more palatable.
True this is nostalgia, but it's a forward thinking nostalgia - our musical present as the electronic mavericks of yesteryear imagined it would be. And if films like 2001 have taught us anything, it's that the future never ends up quite as we expect.
Keeping with the very English approach As The Crow Flies is based on seasonal change, and Brook's takes the opportunity to bring in some more pastoral elements.
Acoustic guitars make an appearance on a few tracks - but folk music this certainly isn't.
Brook's pop smarts are pretty astute and for a mostly instrumental album, this has some very memorable pieces.
The title track coasts along on a nice wave of percussion which wouldn't sound out of place on a Radiohead album, while Modern Through Movement and Everyday Hazards have classic lost tv theme written all over them.
Final track, Lonely Signalman shows even more growth and has heavily treated vocoder vocals, which aren't able to mask the fact that this is a wee gem of a space age pop song.
So definitely not for everyone, but if you're feeling nostalgic or adventurous check out the samples below.
A new favourite of mine.

9 Dec 2011

Bob Dylan - Stolen Moments New York Town Hall 12 April 1963 - Obscure Classics

Recorded by CBS and prepared for an official release back in the sixties Dylan was producing new material at such an alarming rate that there never seemed an opportune moment for this to be released.
Bootleg's have circulated for some time now, mostly sourced from test acetates but never before has the full show been made available in such incredible sound quality.
Fans have hoped for it's release as part of the official Bootleg Series for years now and the Hollow Horn label has beaten Sony to the punch with this excellent package.
The performance is one of the best solo acoustic shows of Dylan' s that I've heard and the rarity heavy tracklisting makes it a far more interesting release than the 1964 Halloween show which was released in the Bootleg Series.
One of Dylan's first major concert appearances ( this was recorded before the release of Freewheelin' ) Dylan is in jovial and charming form and very focused.
Much of the material on here has yet to see release in any other form.
Of these, the best tracks are Dusty Old Fairgrounds, later covered by 70's power poppers Blue Ash, and Hiding Too Long ( You've Been Hiding Too Long Behind The American Flag ).
Hero Blues was later recorded in the studio during the Times They Are A Changin' sessions and circulates as a bootleg.
 It and New Orleans Rag are humorous pieces that would have fit in with the lighter material on Another Side of Bob Dylan.

An essential piece of Dylan lore and one of the best bootlegs I've ever come across.

Disc 1:  Ramblin' Down Thru The World, Bob Dylan’s Dream, Talkin’ New York, Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Walls Of Red Wing, All Over You, Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues, Boots Of Spanish Leather, Hero Blues, Blowin’ In The Wind, John Brown, Tomorrow Is A Long Time, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Disc 2:  Dusty Old Fairgrounds, Who Killed Davy Moore?, Seven Curses, Highway 51, Pretty Peggy-O, Bob Dylan’s New Orleans Rag, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, Hiding Too Long, With God On Our Side, Masters Of War, Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie

Download Links removed at Sony's request. Hopefully this means they are intending to release this officially....

8 Dec 2011

The Owl Service - All Things Being Silent 7"

Active Listener favourite's The Owl Service have a new limited edition 7" out.

All Things Being Silent is the third in their Patterns Beneath The Plow series ( buy the deluxe CD reissue of parts 1 + 2 complete with bonus tracks here ), and is a limited run of 300 worldwide. It's available as a limited edition 140g 7" single in heavy card sleeve with postcard insert. All orders for the 7" made over the Rif Mountain website come with a free 5 song CD-R which includes 3 bonus outtakes from the sessions.

You can buy the 7" here or download it through Rif Mountain's bandcamp page here.

You can stream the a-side The Red Barn below

The Owl Service - The Red Barn by Rif Mountain

You'll need to buy it to hear the fabulous b-side The Standing Stones....

7 Dec 2011

Red House Painters - Songs For A Blue Guitar - Obscure Classic (Review)

Great Albums You May Have Missed

Red House Painters - Songs For A Blue Guitar ( 1996 )

Often credited ( or blamed depending who you talk to ) for kickstarting the slowcore movement, Mark Kozelek's Red House Painters were one of the best alternative guitar bands of the nineties.
4AD picked them up in 1992 on the strength of their demos, which were then released as their first album Down Colorful Hill.
Over the next three years they released another three critically well received albums through 4AD, before problems started to arise. The label decided that some of the material Kozelek had recorded for his newest album, Songs For A Blue Guitar needed a bit of editing. Kozelek had been working with more of an exploratory live approach to some of this new material and to his credit, stood his ground and maintained that the process was as important as the result to him. The end result being of course that Kozelek jumped ship and released the album through Island.
The album is a bit of a departure with a much more organic production which suits the material much better than the heavy handed approach employed on previous releases, and has dated more gracefully as well.
Although a lot of fans seem to prefer the earlier material, this to me is the first appearance of the classic Mark Kozelek sound, and one of my favourite albums of the nineties.
The track which seemed to cause 4AD the most agitation is Make Like Paper, a twelve minute guitar monster with exploratory guitar solos often twice the length of the verses, and pounding drums. Despite it being quite obvious which parts were making the suits sweat, there's not a wasted note on display and you can really see why Kozelek had such belief in it.
Also unexpectedly good on the rockier front is their re-imagining of Paul McCartney's godawful Silly Love Songs. Now I'm a fan of Sir Paul, but also of the opinion that his seventies output would have been a lot better if certain singles hadn't seen the light of day, this being one of the chief offenders. Retaining the lyrics only, it's completely recast here as a meandering minor key Crazy Horse rocker ala Cortez The Killer.

The Car's All Mixed up and Yes's Long Distance Runaround also get the unlikely cover treatment and both stand up very nicely.
There's a lot of good stuff on offer on the acoustic side of things here too. Opener Have You Forgotten is in some ways the archetypal Red House Painters song - Cameron Crowe thought so, he commisioned a rerecording of it for Vanilla Sky.
Feel the Rain Fall perks things up a little at the midway point and Song for a Blue Guitar is a beautiful male / female duet which wouldn't sound out of place on a Mazzy Star album.

Definitely a turning point for Kozelek, this is the album that made his later solo albums and Sun Kil Moon material possible, and is an ideal starting point for beginners.

C.A Quintet - A Trip Thru Hell - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

C.A Quintet - A Trip Thru Hell (1969 )

Selling less than 1000 copies when initially released in 1969, Minnesota band the C.A Quintet's sole studio album is a good example of how much quality music was being recorded at this time, some of which we're only just uncovering now. Since being rediscovered and reissued in the early eighties, it's become a favourite among collectors of arcane U.S psychedelia, and with good reason.
One of the more consistent regional psych releases it includes at least three tracks which could have made an impression on the more adventurous singles chart of the time had they been able to find national distribution.
Smooth as Silk is a great psych single which sounds like a lost Syd Barrett era Floyd gem with a guitar solo that channels the Doors Robbie Krieger and a great harmony filled chorus hook.

Dr of Philosophy is more downbeat and starts out with mad scientist organ work and has a great martial horn part before more excellent Beatlesque chorus harmonies.
Sleepy Hollow Lane is another psych pop goodie with more spooky organ bits, an evocative trumpet break and some nice Jorma Kaukonen style guitar breaks.
At the other end of the spectrum is the nightmarishly paranoid Cold Spider and my favourite, the title suite. If you can imagine Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother suite if they'd had to cut costs when recording you've got a pretty good idea of what this sounds like, right down to the very Floydish basslines and choral work. Interestingly this was recorded well before Atom Heart Mother, and there's very little chance of the Floyd having ever heard this so this seems to just be a case of circumstantial synchronicity, rather than any direct influence.

The excellent Sundazed reissue comes loaded with heaps of bonus material. More commercially orientated, it doesn't match the quality of the original album but it's nice to have anyway.

6 Dec 2011

The Owl Service - A Garland of Song - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great Albums You May Have Missed

The Owl Service - A Garland of Song ( 2007 )

I'm fairly obsessed with cult U.K film and television from the sixties and seventies, so when I came across The Owl Service, a modern psych-folk band named after Alan Garner's cult novel and TV serial I had high hopes.
A throwback to the early seventies U.K folk rock sound, this fits in nicely with the bands of that time inspired by Fairport Convention's electrification of traditional folk material - think Mellow Candle ( who's vocalist Alison O'Donnell has recorded an e.p with Owl Service ), Mr Fox and the Trees but with more of a sinister post Wicker Man awareness.
The psychedelic elements of their music have been overstated somewhat, so it's important to approach this with the right expectations. I was expecting something a little more wyrd folk and was a little taken aback on first listen. After a few more spins though, I was convinced that they had the balance right.
The Gardener Child is a good example of what to actually expect soundwise - a respectful and dignified folk rock arrangement with a quite unexpected fuzz guitar solo - at the end of the day this is definitely more Fairport Convention than Espers. Elsewhere, sitar accompaniment lends period flavour and texture to a number of songs.
Of the originals, The Dorset Hanging Oak is the standout, and the furthest removed from their influences - a wonderfully oppressive doom folk suite which begins with a moody wordless chant, then finds some relief in a simple repeated music box motif before finally being overcome by a sitar riff which sounds like something Tony Iommi would come up with if he picked up the instrument.
Pretty fabulous stuff.

Rif Mountain, the band's record label very kindly offer a free download of the album here:


How about rewarding their generosity by proving that we're not just a bunch of free loaders and buy something from their consistently excellent back catalogue? The links below lead to their titles available on Amazon.co.uk.  The Pattern Beneath The Plough is an excellent set which combines the 2 out of print CDs The Burn Comes Down and The View From a Hill as a double CD with 9 bonus tracks from various out of print E.Ps.
The Fabric of Folk is the E.P which the Owl Service recorded with Mellow Candle's Alison O'Donnell.
Also look out for the Garland Sessions - due out on Christmas Day 2011.

Camper Van Beethoven - Take The Skinheads Bowling - Have You Heard This?

Essential back catalogue tracks you have to hear - posted weekly.

We'll start the ball rolling with the wonderful Camper Van Beethoven and this classic ( and hilarious ) piece of college rock from their 1985 debut Telephone Free Landslide Victory, also available on their collection Popular Songs of Great Enduring Strength & Beauty.

Tune in same time each week for another essential track.

5 Dec 2011

Videos from Active Listener's Top Twenty Albums of 2011

Hi folks - here's a selection of video clips from some of this year's Top Twenty albums for your audio visual pleasure. Apologies to the Jayhawk's Marc Olson for the particularly unflattering still that youtube have chosen to represent their clip.
Personal faves : My Morning Jacket, the Fleet Foxes , Jonathan Wilson and Feist.

4 Dec 2011

Jakob - Jakob E.P - Obscure Classics ( Review )

Great albums you may have missed

Jakob - Jakob E.P ( 1999 )

Napier band Jakob are one of New Zealand's best kept secrets. Often lumped in with the much maligned post-rock scene, they do share superficial similarities with bands like Mogwai, but on the whole their approach has more in common with Sigur Ros. Like Sigur Ros, their music evokes their surrounding landscape - in Jakob's case, hilly coastal areas and widereaching plains.
They've toured extensively in the States, and have supported or toured with Isis, Tool and Mono among others.
This, their first release is marketed as an e.p, but the six tracks on offer here are longer than most albums.
Recorded with long serving engineer David Holmes, it's remarkable how fully formed their sound was at this very early stage, and as consistently great as their back catalogue is I'd have to pick this as my favourite. Which is a pity because it's also their hardest material to track down. The CD version is long out of print, but the band's website do offer it as a high quality digital download ( link below ).
Opener, Verstaeker' s repeated motif unobtrusively fades in on waves of delayed clean guitar, ratcheting up the tension until the band come crashing in. The production is great - you'd swear the drums were in the room with you.
My personal fave, Can We Come In rides a hypnotic hi-hat riff to breaking point and shows an almost Krautrock approach to repetition.
Means is a twenty five minute monster of a track which peaks a ridiculous amount of times and points towards their epic Dominion E.P.
They've released three full albums and another E.P since this came out in 1999, and are currently working on album number 4 which should see release early 2012.
A great band well worth investigating, and if you ever get the chance to see them live run don't walk to get your tickets.

You can stream the whole thing below - give Verstaeker a chance to get going - the media player is working, the fade up is just very quiet for the first minute or so.

3 Dec 2011

Active Listener's Top Twenty Albums of 2011

Following on from my Top Twenty New Discoveries of 2011 and Top Ten Reissues of 2011 lists here's the biggie : The Top Twenty Albums of the Year.

Several titles that should be on here made it to the New Discoveries list so I've left them off here in the interests of keeping things fresh.

20. Opeth - Heritage
Continuing to evolve away from their death metal roots has cost Opeth a lot of their fanbase, but those willing to stick with this direction have been rewarded here with a very diverse album with their prog tendencies now embellished with some nice jazz and folk touches. The death metal vocal is now gone completely and we're left with an album that stands up well compared to the early seventies hard rock releases which inspired it.

19. Brett Anderson - Black Rainbows
Recorded before the Suede reunion this is the frontman's first solo album to revisit the classic glam guitar rock sound that made them famous, and is also his strongest solo album to date. Anderson has gone on the record as saying that the new material that Suede are working on will only see the light of day if it's exceptionally good. The material on here bodes well for us getting a listen at some point.

18. The Unthanks - Last
The Unthanks continue to drag the English folk tradition kicking and screaming into the 21st century with their best and most diverse offering to date. Covering material ranging from ancient traditionals through to Tom Waits and most impressively, King Crimson, the Unthanks never fail to claim total ownership of the material. For more excellent envelope pushing UK folk music, check out Jono McCleery.

17. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
After the lukewarm reception their previous album Evil Urges received, Jim James and co. have abandoned the wacky Princely funkathons and headed back to Z territory. Far from being a regression though they've taken Z's adventurous palette and painted a far more expansive picture with it, ranging from the intimate balladry of Wonderful to the prog funk metal workout Holdin On To Black Metal.

16. Megafaun - Megafaun
Formed by former members of DeYarmond Edison ( who also included a pre fame Justin Vernon of Bon Iver ) , Megafaun offer a diverse mixture of sounds here that would have to be loosely termed folk rock, but often sound more inspired by the beards of the Grateful Dead or even the Traveling Wilburries than those of say, the Fleet Foxes.

15. The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart
A fine debut from the American Mumford & Sons. However whereas the Mumfords have failed to make much of a positive impression on me, The Head and the Heart tone down the angst and offer a far more joyful experience.

14. Jonathan Wilson - Gentle Spirit
The perfect distillation of what made Californian canyon rock circa 1972 so great. Beautifully recorded with vintage gear this evokes America, Jerry Garcia and  most noticeably to me Graham Nash's underrated Songs For Beginners. I'd be a happy man if more new albums sounded like this.

13. Feist - Metals
Along with Joan as Policewoman, Canadian songstress Feist continues to lead the way for the Joni Mitchell inspired singer / songwriter crowd. The diverse, genre straddling arrangements grab you and don't let go until the slow-burning songcraft has you hooked. Habit forming music.

12. Active Child - You Are All I See
Of all the new hipster crowd making 80's synth based music in the over crowded current scene, Active Child has made the most unique statement  I've heard so far. His ethereal Bon Iver-esque vocals are affecting and his arrangements are just that little touch more epic than those of his competitors. Lovely.

11. Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls
Veronica Falls debut album is a refreshing throwback to the days of the Throwing Muses and the Pixies with the slightly dark jangle of early nineties Flying Nun. The male backing vocals sound just like the Bats in fact. Come On Over, their updating of Crimson & Clover is required listening as are the wonderful Beachy Head & Stephen.

10. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
St Vincent's evolution into the indie generation's very own Kate Bush continues with her strongest album yet. Great songs and very adventurous Eno-eque production flourishes. One of those rare albums, which is instantly appealing but leaves plenty to reveal for multiple listens. Rewarding stuff.

9. Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
A long time coming, The Harrow and the Harvest is everything you expect it to be. Timeless songsmithery which sounds like it's just found it's way down from the mountains, intricate and beautiful guitar accompaniment from David Rawlings and a sparse warm production which leaves plenty of room for the vocal and guitars to co-exist. And most importantly this is Welch's strongest set of songs to date.

8. Other Lives - Tamer Animals
This is a pretty stunning piece, equal parts beardy nu-folk and grandiloquent indie ala the National, with big sweeping movie score orchestrations. One for fans of Fleet Foxes. The National, Midlake and the Leisure Society.

7. Jonny - Jonny
A U.K indie supergroup fronted by Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's Euros Childs, this sounds like it was a whole lot of fun to make. Mixing everything from Beach Boys sunshine pop to Kinks harpsichord flourishes to hypnotic kraut rock this is an affectionate and infectious homage to all of their favourite bands.

6. Bachelorette - Bachelorette
Apparently the last release as Bachelorette by Annabel Alper's who is now working in a group format, naming her album simply Bachelorette seems to confirm that she intends this as her definitive statement. The folk elements of past releases are downplayed and we're left with an incredibly strong set of synth pop classics which brings to mind everyone from Ladytron to Jon & Vangelis. Great.

5. Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing
Moving on from Destroyer of the Void's Queen fixation, Blitzen Trapper have now set their sights on Southern Rock and predictably assimilate all of the essential elements of that sound effortlessly into their own. Great hooks abound on instant classics like Might Find It Cheap.

4. The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time
A triumphant return for  the Olsen / Louris fronted Jayhawks with an album that sounds like it could have been the natural follow up to 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass. From the classic 60's pop of She Walks In so Many Ways to the darker undertones of Black Eyed Susans this offers everything which made the Jayhawks great. One of the great comeback albums - and there's not many of them around.

3. Bon Iver - Bon Iver 
A much more ambitious release than Bon Iver's much loved debut, this is a grower which a lot of people were confused by when it first hit the shelves. The solo acoustic guitar sound of the original has been shelved in favour of a a large ensemble with more brass and some thunderous percussion, but still has room for moments of unspoiled melancholy and the odd Phil Collins moment. Lovely

2. Malachai - Return to the Ugly Side
The follow up to their instant classic 60's inspired debut drops everything which made the debut so great and is an entirely different beast. This is the dark hangover to the Ugly Side of Love's party. In the nineties this would have been called trip hop, but here it's evolved into something far more cinematic.

1. The Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Here, Pecknold has managed the difficult task of holding onto the elements that made people fall in love with the first album, without stagnating. The lovely CSN harmonies are still intact, but there's an added scope and ambition to be found on more progressive epics like The Shrine / The Argument with it's multi song structure and free-jazz breakdown. A very impressive sophomore release in a year that's seen more than it's fair share of them.

Honorable mentions to : P.J Harvey, Wilco, The Felice Brothers and The Phoenix Foundation who were all pretty close to making the cut.

What are your albums of the year? I'm always keen to hear something new that I might have missed.  Let me know in the comments section.