29 Dec 2013

Paul Roland with Ralf Jesek "Hexen" Paul Roland "Werewolf of London" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Paul Roland should be a name familiar to all readers of this page but if by chance this is not the case, he is the psych legend behind such classics as "Cabinet of Curiosities" and "Sarabande". For over twenty years he has tirelessly produced tripped out and deliciously dark albums that have somehow criminally gone under the radar of the more popular music mainstream. A personal hero of this writer, his work cannot be recommended highly enough.
Which makes it particularly special that two new Paul albums have arrived at once; this is a Black Christmas indeed! The first, "Hexen", is a soundtrack to the classic Danish silent movie "Haxan" (1922) and is credited to ‘Paul Roland with Ralf Jesek’ to acknowledge the contribution made by his collaborator (of the band ‘In The Rosary’). Unfortunately Paul’s plan to rerelease the film with his new accompanying music fell through but, undefeated, he has put out his original soundtrack with the addition of new tracks that focus on similar themes, that of pagan nature worship and the persecution of witches in the Middle Ages.
The opener "Sanctus" is a gothic organ piece that, with ominous bells and chanted vocals, could also have ably fitted onto the soundtracks to such folk horror film classics as "Witchfinder General" or "Blood on Satan’s Claw". "Night of the Witch" is more guitar led; a black mass of full blown dark psychedelia. In contrast "Devil’s Wood" is an acoustic chamber piece that name checks Jack-In-The Green and has a timeless Wicker Man beauty to its pagan folk approach. "Beltane" celebrates the waning of the year and Herne the Hunter, its nursery rhyme verse and handclaps accompanied by floating female vocals in a swaying solstice dance. Fans of Espers, Sproatly Smith and the John Barleycorn Dark Britannica folk series will find much to love here. Indeed "Wicker Man" tells the tale of the Christian copper led a merry chase by the inhabitants of Summerisle in a violin led, sinister procession of a song. The second half of the album leaves Roland’s storytelling and more straight forward psych tracks to delve into the mists and mire with several dark instrumentals and the album becomes more of a traditional soundtrack, giving some idea of how the original plan for Paul’s Haxan might have sounded. "Agnus Dei" and "Kissing The Devil’s Arse" provide Black Sabbath-esque breaks from the string drenched horror, creating an effective dynamic between foreboding interludes and full on psych monsters.
Hexen is released by Palace Of Worms and is a must for all lovers of the original movie "Haxan" and those who like their psych or dark folk sprinkled with a layer of gothic dread.
The second release from Paul is a reissue of his debut album from 1980 "The Werewolf Of London" as a ‘Director’s Cut’ re-mastered and with additional tracks (recently rediscovered alternate mixes of "Puppet Master" and "Dr Strange") and several retouched songs. Paul’s first outing set him on a course into the world of wyrd and dark psych-folk and contains several of his classic tracks such as "Blades of Battenburg" and "The Hollow Men". The usual Roland mix of full on psych rock tracks interspersed with acoustic, macabre tales is well evident here along with more synth based songs that, as his career progressed, would tend to morph into string quartet aided baroque pop. Melodic and yet disquieting this is an accomplished and mature debut but the best was still to come. Roland has a diverse and prolific back catalogue which he is in the process of reissuing (so you can avoid some of the three figure sums that the originals now sell for). Take a trip down the rabbit hole into the dark and frightening, yet colourful and twisted world of Paul Roland.

Hexen is available here. 
The Werewolf Of London is available on CD here and digitally here.

27 Dec 2013

Swervedriver "Deep Wound" Review

Reviewed by Jason Simpson (Forestpunk)

In the Creation Records documentary "Upside Down", someone said "the only shoes they were gazing at were the ones flying past their faces" about Swervedriver.
Swervedriver are the best and clearest example of the wide variety of psychedelic guitar rock emerging in the late '80s and early '90s, which could range from blistering walls of blissed-out noise, to narcoleptic, opiated drone and all points in between - often within the same band, sometimes within the same song.
"Deep Wound", b/w "Dub Wound" is the first new studio output from Swervedriver in 14 years and should reinstate them as the capstone of the heavy psychedelia pyramid. It's built around a descending guitar riff, nearly spot on identical with The Beatles "And your bird can sing," and it occupies a similar powerpop terrain to that song too, if it were to have been recorded in the fog, and then xeroxed.
Swervedriver love hooky, chorusy psychedelic music, recorded through a coliseum of amplifiers, making textural, stylized rock 'n roll. "Deep Wound" is a rager which comes out swinging and never lets up (they were always a pedal to the metal band). It's great to hear them in full-tilt; I greatly adore the spaciousness and moodiness of some of Adam Franklin's delicate solo material like "Toshack Highway", but the man can rock like none other. It's amazing to hear him backed by one of the most pummeling rhythm sections, able to really PUSH IT, to get intense while still blowin' cool.
"Deep Wound" has been around for a while. They played it on Jimmy Fallon in 2012, and are just now releasing it to coincide with a tour in Australia, and a pledge of things to come. Swervedriver are said to be releasing a new album in 2014. It's not precisely a reunion. They've been playing together again since 2008, and Adam Franklin has been intensely prolific since Swervedriver broke up in 1999, with solo material and the Bolts Of Melody. It's more like four people who enjoy each others company, and make good music together. They have a chemistry. People are starting to catch on.
The B-Side "Dub Wound" finds Ride's Mark Gardner (who sings backup on the A-Side) playing The Mad Professor, delivering a weightless, krautrock dub version of the single. It's a really interesting remix; Gardner replaces the driving drums of the original with a motorik machine beat and a simple, pulsing bassline, like tires on a rough asphalt road. He strips the song down to an outline of Adam Franklin's ringing guitar, filling the headspace with stereo effects and panning, against a crystalline backdrop of backwards organ. It sounds like it's floating in the milky way.
One of the main advantages of living in such an information-rich society is we're being given a chance to correct history, to go back and re-appreciate and scour and research. The pop historians, the moldering archivists, the half-mad crate diggers are all doing tremendous work of late, and a good portion of the most interesting new music releases are re-issues and compilations. We can live like those performance artist twins from New York, who chose to live like it was 1900. We can pick whatever era we like and adorn and festoon ourselves with ephemera and authenticity. We are also able to sift out the best stuff and throw the trash away.
In some circumstances these artists are still alive and kicking and making wonderful music, and we get to hear new sounds from old favorite bands. 2013 was a red letter year for new shoegaze treasures: new MBV, new MEDICINE, new SWERVEDRIVER. It's like 1991 all over again only this time let's not get lazy and actually buy the records and go to the shows. It's an encouraging sign that this guitar-centric psychedelia is rearing it's head again as so much of what is in is being made electronically. There hasn't been that much new, interesting guitar music recently. It's important to be reminded of the frenzy of the dancefloor, the sweat, the communism, the high-blooded magick of flying guitar solos and head banging. I'll be a devotee of rock 'n roll for life, even when I'm only listening to rap mixtapes.
Swervedriver point out the limits of labeling and genrefication, which are often attached after the fact. They were way WAY heavier and grungier than most of their ilk but still possessed an air of English romance and pastoralism. There is a sense of the English countryside to their music. They come from Oxford, part of the Thames Valley that contained Reading and produced a significant amount of the most influential shoegaze. But they were also surprisingly American, for a foggy British band. It's all about driving - far and fast. I would credit Neu! "Neu!" as sharing the crowning spot of Best Driving Record Of All Time with Swervedriver's "Mezcalhead" (which i bought on cassette from a Greyhound Station in Washington, D.C.). With Lazerhawk's "Redline" serving as Archduke. It's like they put you in the driver's seat of some powerful machine with the pummeling guitars acting as piston engine, while Adam Franklin's misty vocals breeze by with ethereal electronics rushing by like constellations.
If I were to compare Swervedriver to one better known band for someone who has never heard them, it would be Dinosaur Jr. They have a similar blend of powerful, thick guitars, propulsive drumming and pop vocal harmonies. Their music manages to be both intensely heavy while staying ethereal and trippy- a cross between the Cocteau Twins and The Smashing Pumpkins. Shoegaze was psychedelic music for melancholic souls, for speedfreaks and acidheads, whitehot, dilate pupil rock 'n roll, shot through a vaseline-smeared lens. They draw an essential line between The Cure and The Grateful Dead, and for that I will forever be grateful.

"Deep Wound" is available here.

23 Dec 2013

Hermione Harvestman "Ghosts (Four Stories by M.R James)" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I've always felt an affinity with the English. Even though I spend my Southern Hemisphere Christmas basking in the sun, there's always been a part of me that associates Christmas with early twilight and a roaring fireplace, preferably accompanied by some form of spooky televisual accompaniment.
An English Christmas simply wouldn't be the same without a good ghost story, and after a lean few decades the BBC and Mark Gatiss are spoiling us this year with two M.R James related features - "M.R James: Ghost Writer" (a documentary), as well as a new Ghost Story for Christmas adaptation of "The Tractate Middoth", directed by Gatiss.
For those not satisfied with this visual feast, I'd like to draw your attention to another more obscure M.R James related artifact, dating back to 1976, but only made available to the general public over the last few months - but first an introduction of the artist responsible:
Hermione Harvestman is a name known to very few, but thanks to the efforts of Sedayne (of wyrd folk duo Sedayne and Rapunzel), her groundbreaking electronic compositions are finding a wider and appreciative audience through a rapidly expanding bandcamp back catalogue, lovingly curated by Sedayne (who knew her well during the last ten years of her life.)
An accompanying statement introduces her:  
"Harvestman played the organ in a small Catholic Church between 1967 and 1995, regularly featuring one of her sacred ‘Concrete Psalm Tones’ in lieu of organ music during Holy Communion or The Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday. She also composed music for several amateur theatrical productions – the best of which being the starkly evocative & exquisite medieval miniatures she produced for ‘The Durham Pilgrims’ in 1972 which takes its cue from Chaucer. 
A devout Roman Catholic all of her life (up until her illness and death), Hermione nevertheless incorporated elements of Folklore, Medievalism, Paganism, Astrology, Earth Mysteries and Cosmology into her world view, viewing her compositions in terms of personal devotions to the various aspects of her life, the vast majority of which were never meant for public consumption."
I've sampled a number of her works already and they've all proven suitably adventurous and forward thinking, but these four pieces based on the short ghost stories of M.R James are the works that have really stuck with me.
I've seen plenty of comparisons made to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram in regards to this work, but to my ears the sound is more attuned to that of the early eighties Workshop contributions of Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland - in fact, if it didn't seem so unlikely for them to have heard Harvestman's work, I would have assumed she was a key influence of theirs.
Opener "Ruins (A View From a Hill)" wastes no time in setting an uneasy mood which is expertly manipulated to provide almost endless frissons and none of the longeurs one would perhaps expect from pieces of this length "improvised in real time electronic seance, when the wind blew high on a night of October", with it's occasionally discordant timbres sending chills up this listener's spine, while providing the perfect musical backdrops to readings of the accompanying stories.
The supplementary pieces from the late seventies and early eighties fit in effortlessly too.
While it's unlikely that many will play this from end to end (at well over two and a half hours), it's an ideal platform for dipping into, and accomplishes the impressive task of making James' famed literary contributions even more unsettling, while establishing a tone that sounds at once both sparklingly futuristic and hermetically archaic.
Perhaps it's best to leave you with Hermione's own description of these pieces:
"...music for my ears alone for it's quality is evocative in a very particular sense but rarely any good in a purely musical sense as my mind, I fear, was very much elsewhere. It's all down to chance, dreaming trance and enchantment. This is magic music that very often terrifies me and I would hate anyone to be similarly effected by it.... "  

Available to download here:

Bob Dylan "The McKenzie Tapes - Home Recordings 1961-62" "Live in Colorado 1976" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Another couple of legal loophole Bob Dylan releases have found their way out in the EU over the last few months (and are easily obtainable via Amazon.co.uk).
While I support the official Bootleg Series 100%, these two releases are unlikely candidates for release in that series anytime soon due to sound quality issues in one case, and an unfairly harsh critical reception in the other. So given that no official release is likely in either case, what to make of these two releases?
The first is "The McKenzie Tapes - Home Recordings 1961-62", a selection of thirty solo acoustic performances recorded on amateur equipment at the home of Eve and Mac McKenzie over three sessions between 1961 and 1963. Rather than the complete tapes, these are the 'highlights' from these informal tapings and while the performances are often convincing, the sound quality is extremely rudimentary (especially on the first two sessions where tracks are more often than not fragmentary). One theory for this alleges that the tapes were sneakily recorded by Anthony Scaduto while interviewing the McKenzies for his authorized Dylan biography. Armed with a portable tape recorder he'd request a cup of coffee and tape what he could while in the room alone before stowing his gear hastily on their return. An unlikely story certainly, but one that makes the fragmentary nature of these recordings and the inherently rough sound quality a little more listenable.
The last session from 1963 (not 1962 as stated) heats up a little more with longer versions of essential Dylan rarities like "The Death of Emmett Till" and "Ballad of Donald White" making this a must own for the early Dylan fan, but a no go area for the more casual listener.
Next up, and a much more appealing prospect is "Live in Colorado 1976" - an excellent live document of the show that the official live album "Hard Rain" was drawn from, although neither come close to covering the whole show.
While the first leg of the Rolling Thunder Tour from 1975 was universally touted as a success, the second leg from 1976 was noticeably darker and heavier. While it's true that the spontaneity and fun of the 1975 shows are long gone, there's a greater conviction in performances like "Idiot Wind" that leave their studio counterparts whimpering in a corner.
"Bob was really hitting the bottle that weekend." says Rolling Thunder bass player Rob Stoner "That was a terrible fuckin’ weekend. There was a lot of stuff that makes Hard Rain an extraordinary snapshot—like a punk record or something. It’s got such energy and such anger."
Also welcome is a chance to hear part of the acoustic set from this performance which was completely axed from "Hard Rain". While Joan Baez' presence is tolerated more than enjoyed, there's no denying that their harmonizing on Woody Guthrie's "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportees)" and "Railroad Boy" is extremely well polished and appears to spur Dylan on.
Yes, there's some duplication with tracks that appeared on "Hard Rain". Yes, that is very obviously a photo from the 1978 tour on the cover. And yes, an official release of the whole concert with DVD would be much more welcome, but at the end of the day this is a compelling performance that the critics have always told you was a bit rubbish, and one that they just happen to be very, very wrong about. And now you have the opportunity to judge for yourselves.

"The McKenzie Tapes" is available here.
"Live in Colorado 1976" is available here (at time of writing for only 5.76!)

Zeuk "Zeuk" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Once in a while an album appears that is as timeless and classic as its influences. Zeuk’s debut is such an album, and it is the work of one man band and troubadour extraordinaire Marc Roberts.
Firmly placing itself amongst the more mystical side of the acid folk scene but also drawing influence from luminaries such as Peter Hammill and Current 93 this is an assured and masterful first outing. Acoustic guitar and bells herald in ‘Fire In The Heart Of The Earth Queen’ which sets Zeuk’s stall in strident and visionary terms, sounding like it could have been recorded at any point from the 1970s onwards and have since been rediscovered as an acid folk classic. ‘Trenchcoat and Tulip’ is more reflective, skipping darkly amongst the flowers with hushed and flanged vocals; a spectre in T Rex’s garden. However this album is no tribute or elaborate reproduction of musics past; Zeuk are a potent creative force in themselves and the confidence and maturity evidenced in this, their first recording, is both spine tinglingly tangible and bodes well for future albums (and let’s hope there are many).
‘Amethyst Bell’ with its delicate guitar lines and anguished vocals reminds this listener of Hammill’s depressive opus ‘Over’ whilst ‘Since’ adds violin and harmonica to its comforting melancholy. There is something deeply heartfelt and yearning about Zeuk’s music, the bittersweet melodies both nostalgic and happy-sad. ‘Song For Freyja (Sorvan Mix) ‘ is epic in its dramatic intent, echoing bells and waves of keyboard adding to the sense of portent and dread. A beautiful yet terrifying version of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballad Of Reading Gaol’ follows. This is not music imagined on a small scale and its emotional pull and sense of drama belies its one man origins ‘Sad Song/Sad At Last’ adds weeping violin to Marc’s impassioned vocals and the result is heartbreaking; in the same vein as Peter Hamill Zeuk ably merge stylised vocals with genuine remorse and feeling. ‘Such Things’ adds a touch of hope to proceedings whilst Vampire is a gothic string drenched macabre terror. ‘Autumn Night’ closes the album with a reflective and forlorn acoustic instrumental piece. The sheer variety of mood and music on display here is impressive in itself yet there is a consistency that comes from Zeuk having their own clearly defined sound and identity, mostly from Marc’s impressive and distinctive vocals.
In a just world Zeuk would be performing this with full orchestra and there would be gatefold sleeves a-plenty. Which bring us to the beautiful packaging that this album comes presented in. Handmade gold flecked paper adorns the cover with an illustration of a seahorse encased in a presentation sleeve. Each copy comes with its own seahorse amulet, further emphasising the special and careful nature taken over this release by Zeuk and their splendid label Reverb Worship. The album itself sounds crystal clear with lovely production and with just the right amount of psychedelic touches and studio glitter to add to Zeuk’s otherworldly mood and unique universe. But don’t delay; this Will O' The Wisp of an album is limited to only 65 handmade copies.
Where did this debut album come from and how does it weave its spell so effortlessly, so fully formed and timeless? That is part of the mystery of Zeuk. Why not attempt to solve this riddle or at least take a swim with the seahorse and enjoy trying.

Available on CD from Reverb Worship.  

22 Dec 2013

Toy "Join The Dots" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

One of the things that I love most about Toy, and one of the reasons that they've achieved some mainstream success where their contemporaries are consigned to niche appeal status, is that they never sound like they're trying to slavishly reproduce a bygone era. They certainly conjure memories of a number of seemingly contrasting bands from various golden ages, but they always sound like a definitive product of the now.
I've seen several reviewers complain that the Krautrock elements of last year's debut have been toned down and the sound 'popped' up here on "Join The Dots". Fuck knows what they were listening too as, if anything, I hear even more motorik drive here, and if the intense build of "Chopper" on the debut worked you into a frenzy as much as it did I, you'd better reach for your medication because there's plenty of that here.
Opener "Conductor" ushers things in perfectly with a huge wall of glacial keyboards, and a rhythm section and delay ridden guitar part that sounds like Neu tackling "Another Brick in the Wall" - an appropriate start to a massive sounding album that tastefully straddles the divide between arena and art.
There's plenty of pop smarts too with "Join The Dots" and the woozy My Bloody Valentine-isms of "Endlessly" in particular impressing with their memorable choruses. The devil is really in the details however, whether it be the eighties keyboard layers of "Frozen Atmosphere" (think New Order's "Sunrise"), or the propulsive post-punk basslines of the title track, Toy prove here that they can weave the disparate strands of their record collections into a cohesive whole that stands strongly on it's own two feet.

Available on Vinyl, Digital or CD.

Lord Buffalo "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin/ Black Mesa" Review

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

A new group from Austin, Lord Buffalo, has a new 7” out on Black Castle Collective.
Unlike many of the neo psych groups hailing from Austin, these fellows compliment the standard instrumentation of guitar, bass, keys and drums with a more folk- friendly selection of instruments (banjo, pedal steel and violin). The result is a more cinematic listening experience. Maybe it’s a Texas thing, but this is the sound of huge vistas, big skies and the vast emptiness in the pit of a condemned man’s soul.
The two songs on their new single are called "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" and "Black Mesa"
Comparing this to the groups 2012 EP, the new single seems a far more concentrated affair. Although their sound certainly still evokes dark desert nights, there’s something less personal in the intent of the new material. It’s like the sun is rising at long last and the introspection of the previous songs has turned outward to face the coming battle.
The title "Mene Mene Tekely Upharsin" comes from the Book of Daniel in the Bible, referencing the message written on the palace wall the night Babylon fell. There is a definite sense of foreboding here, delivered over a pounding war dance rhythm. In the words of singer Daniel Jesse Pruitt, the song is about that moment of no going back, when “the shit’s about to get real”. One might get a sense of The Black Angels here, but the sound feels far removed from the new lords of psychedelia. Perhaps that is a result of the band focusing on creating moods based on live performances and short form releases. Both the EP and this new single have consistent themes running throughout and have no problems standing on their own merits.
On the B-side, "Black Mesa", Pruitt’s Bono-esque vocal delivery is complimented by a very unexpected violin and slide guitar sweep that (oddly enough) reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot’s "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" or even something Celtic in origin. It seems odd to reference both the U2 front man and the Canadian troubadour Lightfoot in the review of a talented modern band, but I think that the fact that Lord Buffalo even suggests these two sounds is a testament to their strength and potential. There’s a definite intelligence and courage to this music, and I for one am encouraged for their future.

Available as a 7" or digital download here:

21 Dec 2013

Active Listener Writers Share Their Favourite Albums of 2013

I published my favorite 50 albums of the year list here a few weeks back, and a few of my other writers have chimed in with their lists below. Lots of great stuff to be discovered here:

Grey Malkin:
2. Messe I.X –V.I.X- Ulver
3. Malá Morská Víla Soundtrack - Zdenek Liska
4. Warrior At The Edge Of Time Remastered – Hawkwind
5. Morgiana/The Cremator Soundtrack - Zdenek Liska/ Luboš Fišer
6. Omega Original Soundtrack- Michael Begg/Human Greed
7. Spoicke – United Bible Studies
8. Witchfinder General Soundtrack - Paul Ferris
9. The Book of the Lost - The Rowan Amber Mill and Emily Jones
10. Aonaran –Richard Moult

Tom Sandford:
1. Ian Skelly – Cut From A Star 
2. Grant Hart – The Argument 
3. The Kingsbury Manx – Bronze Age 
4. Moby – Innocents 
5. Neils Children – Dimly Lit 
6. Pissed Jeans – Honeys 
7. Wire – Change Becomes Us 
8. My Bloody Valentine – mbv 
9. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork 
10. Paper Kites – States

Chris Sherman:
1. Svenska Kaputt - Svenska Kaputt
2. Wolf People - Fain
3. Me and My Kites - Like A Dream Back Then
4. Jacco Gardner - Cabinet of Curiosities
5. Kiki Pau - Pines
6. Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day
7. Elephant Stone - Elephant Stone

Jason Simpson:
1. Teeth of the Sea - Master
2. Factory Floor - Factory Floor
3. V.A. - The Outer Church compilation
4. Low - The Invisible Way
5. The Stranger - Watching Dead Empires In Decay
6. Emptyset - Recur
7. The Haxan Cloak - Excavations
8. I Am The Lake Of Fire - I Am The Lake Of Fire
9. The Soulless Party - Tales From The Black Meadow
10. Hacker Farm - UHF

Amanda Votta:
1. Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood – Black Pudding 
2. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day 
3. Stone Breath – Spear of Flame, Horse of Air 
4. Mick Harvey – Four (Acts of Love) 
5. Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio 
6. Albatwitch – Only Dead Birds Sing Over the Graves of Forgotten Kings 
7. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore 
8. Crime & The City Solution – American Twilight 
9. The Dirtbombs – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! 
10. Beastmilk – Climax

20 Dec 2013

Goat "Live Ballroom Ritual" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Goat exploded onto the psych scene almost from nowhere in 2012 with their debut album ‘World Music’ and blistering live sets at both Glastonbury and Roadburn. An apparently revolving cast of musicians that always appear masked and in costume, their live shows have quickly become legendary. The Swedes now follow up their subsequent ’Stonegoat’ 7”with a recording from the Camden Ballroom that ably showcases their aptitude for dynamic and memorable performance.
When they emerged Goat appeared as a fully formed act; there were no initial faltering steps or misfires. ‘World Music’ was as accomplished an album as you would find at any point in a band’s career, melding Afrobeat rhythms to full blown psyched out acid jams and chanted vocals. Freeform yet incredibly tight, ‘World Music’ was startling in its ambition and scope. It sounded like it came from an earlier age, one inhabited by a particularly full on and frazzled The Grateful Dead or some kind of Hendrix/Sly Stone hybrid. In short, it didn’t sound remotely how you would expect a modern day Swedish rock band to sound.
This live artifact gathers all the tracks from their debut and adds ‘Stonegoat’ and its B-side ‘Dreambuilding’. However this is no retread; these songs are twisted and pulled in unfamiliar and unexpected directions –they come to life in frantic and often jazz influenced discordancy and improvisation, as in the version here of ‘Let it Bleed’. The guitars sound massive and move like clockwork; Goat can work a groove and they are as tight a band as they come. ‘Dreambuilding’, with both its Isaac Hayes styled heavy funk and glittering psychedelic guitar, should be an uncomfortable combination of styles but Goat are master alchemists; they brew their influences and sounds into something altogether new and more than the sum of its parts. The Goat trilogy (‘Goatman’, Goathead’ and ‘Goatlord’) are featured with added apocalyptic fuzz guitar wig out splendour and venom. This writers personal favourite ‘Det Som Aldrig Forandras’ is an explosion of colour and sound, the guitars swaggering like the theme from a 70s cop show. With this live recording you may be missing out on the sheer spectacle of Goat live but the excitement bleeds through nonetheless.
Essential, not just as a stop gap until their new album but as a solid album in its own right, ‘Live Ballroom Ritual’ joins the ranks of classic live albums that capture a band at its finest, most inventive and most exploratory. Get your Goat.

Available on limited edition Vinyl, Digitaland CD.

19 Dec 2013

Neil Young "Live at the Cellar Door" Review

Reviewed by Chris Sherman

The latest volume of the perpetually in the making (and perpetually delayed) Neil Young Archives Series has been released, and it is quite the chapter in Young’s long and storied career. Labeled as volume 2.5 in the performance series, this was seemingly discovered after the release of the Archives Volume 1 box a few years back, and hence the odd numbering (which allows this to stay chronological, and sit between 1970’s Fillmore and 1971’s Massey Hall shows in the series). As a quick aside, I am coincidentally reading the Young biography Shakey at the moment, and he is quoted as saying that the archives series is meant to show “how scared I was and how great I was[…]show the real picture, not a product. Everything [will be there]- the good, the bad, the ugly…” I find this quite interesting on many levels, particularly as someone who owns everything that has been released so far in the series. Besides the haphazard nature of the archives project, it seems there is censoring happening, what with many key album tracks being left off the main box, and his resistance to release material from the 73-74 ditch trilogy era. That said, this is not to impugn his vision and the nature of this massive project; we should be lucky that anything is coming out, but that quote stuck with me since this set is a compilation rather than one full show, and it seemed poignant to mention here.
Live at the Cellar Door was recorded during a six-show stand at Washington DC’s Cellar Door club between November 30 and December 6, 1970, which would be the first performances after the release of After the Gold Rush. Featuring the live debut of many of the songs on the set list, this series of shows was merely a warm-up for a pair of high profile gigs at Carnegie Hall in New York a few days later. From what I understand, the Cellar Door was a tiny club, and immediately, the listener will gather not only the warm ambiance of the venue, but the intimacy of the performances; it feels like Neil is playing in your home for you. I love the readings of the material here, and right off the bat, prefer “Tell Me Why” to the familiar LP version; the absence of harmony vocals (and key change) actually alters the song for the better. Likewise for “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Old Man” and “Birds.”
Throughout the set, Neil juggles between an acoustic guitar and a piano, the latter on which an interesting rendition of “Cinnamon Girl” is played, although this arrangement would soon be abandoned from his set, probably for the best. “Expecting To Fly”, while choppy at the start, finds its way and Neil manages to bring out the delicate emotion that the symphony somehow subtracts from on the album version. “See the Sky About To Rain” is also notable as it would be another four years before properly recorded for release. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” has always been my favorite Young song, and this performance does not disappoint in any way. The closing song though might stand as what has kept me coming back to this show. While never the biggest Buffalo Springfield fan, Neil’s contributions to their albums were the high points, but unfortunately, the vocals would typically be sung by others in that group (“Clancy”, “On the Way Home” etc.). With that, getting to hear his voice on this restrained version of “Flying On The Ground is Wrong” (which has an extended introduction here where it is explained that it is a grass song) is beyond rewarding. One wonders if it was merely turned into a more upbeat “pop song” because of the nature of that group and the times, as this solo piano rendition suits it way more, and it would not be out of place on, say Harvest.
Now, I know what you’re thinking- another solo acoustic set? Where does this rank with the others, because not everyone can be a completest..? Good question! Live at Canterbury House ’68 is an inexperienced Young playing mostly Buffalo Springfield cuts and a few new songs from his debut LP, with silly audience banter between; this is his solo beginnings and it shows. Live at Riverboat ’69 picks right up where that leaves off, albeit slightly more polished, drawing from similar material. Massey Hall is Young at his solo peak- a lengthy set list, drawing on four albums plus Springfield material, most of which would subsequently be briefly retired as he went on the Stray Gators and then the Santa Monica Flyers tours in ’73, and then the disastrous CSNY reunion tour in ’74. It is played in front of a greatly enthusiast and appreciative Toronto audience watching their native son, and it is here his confidence shows; Young captivates the audience and is more than just a performer. As awesome as that is, I think Cellar Door gains the edge, due to the intimacy between performer and crowd and the relative freshness of the songs (although I am not a fan of using the best takes from each night- I prefer a full night’s performance, warts and all, as Neil alluded to wanting once upon a time…). Anyhow, let’s hope that the series continues to move forward and more treasures are released, such as this album!

Available here on CD and vinyl.

14 Dec 2013

Death & Vanilla "Vampyr" Review

Reviewed by Jason Simpson (Forestpunk)

Enter the town of Courtempierre, a silver nitrate village in the shadow of a crumbling manor. People are going missing, and you just remembered the wrapped paper parcel the stranger gave to you earlier. It had about the dimensions and heft of an old book. You might have to shed some blood before the night is through; some of it might be your own. You might be digging up graves before the dawn.
“Vampyr” is a live score for the 1932 German vampire film, directed by Carl Theodor Dryer. It’s the most recent release from Malmö, Sweden’s stereophonic electropop surrealists Death And Vanilla, released just before Halloween on the crackling tape label Moon Glyph. For the occasion, the usual duo bulked up to a five piece, to become a chorale of moogs and spooky organs, sneaky vibes, guitars, basses, and wind. Some of it was improvised, but it sure as hell seems tightly put together, weaving a narrative in the dark, casting you into the world of Vampyr.
Death & Vanilla are exquisite recreationists. They rehearsed for 5 weeks with the footage of the film, in preparation for this performance. The rehearsal made the band tight and in control, really getting a chance to set the mood, and let something special happen. They play like a real band together, like people who have written parts and memorized them. Like people that play in a room together once or twice a week. We loved their first record, and they just seem to be getting better all the time. For lovers of soundtracks, of ’60s pop and lounge and the idea of what the future used to be, get on board.
Every element is dipped in warm tube reverb that pets your ears, that soothes and sedates you, that lures you into the trance and lets the chronicles unfold in yr chilled brain. It’s the perfect antidote to the passive stimulation of visual entertainment. It lets you supply yr own visions, and actually exercises the imagination. I’ve never seen Vampyr (although i have to now), and I totally loved letting the music supply my imagery of snowy village courtyards, of graveyards and stealing through the night.
One thing you can say for hauntologists, they always have great keyboard sounds. It really casts a classic ‘Hammer-in-the-60s’ vibe, (even though this movie was made in ’32). It makes me think of vampires in cardboard crypts.
The moods on “Vampyr” range from ’70s baroque melancholic (pianos and flutes), to sneaky and mysterious (vibes and surf guitar), to ritualistic (thundering drums) to pitch black ambiance (wind). It’s a real journey, that places you inside the film. Or transforms your life into one.
Death & Vanilla stand for something. They believe in something. They love something; the past. Knowledge. They are scholars, and have exceptional taste. It is difficult to talk about Death & Vanilla without Stereolab or Broadcast being brought up. It’s not because this Swedish duo are overtly trying to sound like Trish Keenan or Laetitia Sadler, but because all of them share a love for ’60s and ’70s culture. For funky, quirky British movies and National Film Boards Of Canada information films. For all things blurry and kodachrome, for those bright red splashes of blood and the last days of dystopian black & whites.
There’s been a lot of acid from the post-punk cognoscenti over the retrofixation of this present generation, and I would like to counter. Because you can’t always Rip it up and start again. You’ve got to start from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually yourself. We all like things, and have interests, have our own particular vibes that give us gooseflesh. If one has a love of learning, and can still one’s self and find the eye of the hurricane, you can totally excel at your chosen craft, in this case, making bitching movie soundtracks.
Because the band took their time. Because they love what they are doing. They took the time to rehearse and write parts. They took the time to get to know one another as musicians. To find authentic (or authentic sounding) instruments and amps, and tune and upkeep those instruments. This is what I call MASTERY, and it’s one of the things I’m most interested in.
Because we have it all at our fingertips. We could make anything we want. We could make the most astounding artwork in history, every single day, and we are, and we should be. It’s also an antidote to the ‘Things Used To Be Better’ poison. Things used to be different. The main trade off, for me, these days, is I have every opportunity and resource, I’m pulled in a hundred directions, and my attention span is flayed to bloody ribbons.
That’s why we have to learn FOCUS. Let Death & Vanilla be an example of what could be done. Loving recreation, that makes new worlds, that sets people’s imagination on fire. O, and as a side benefit, this also transmits a love of these old things that you’ve been so inspired by, and the old forms do not die, but grow and evolve. In this way, we are keeping the past alive. ALIVE, as in the present. The past is alive, in the present, which is a far cry from it being dead in the dust, lost in yesterday.
In this same way, the future is still alive and well, and Death And Vanilla are pointing the way towards it.
Moon Glyph still has some copies (where you can also hear more samples), so you’d be advised to locate one and then go out and watch Vampyr.

Originally published at Forestpunk.

Stream a sample below (please hit refresh if Soundcloud embed does not appear).

13 Dec 2013

Neils Children "The Highs & Lows" / "You" 7" Review

Reviewed by Tom Sandford

"At a Gentle Place", from this year’s superb "Dimly Lit", turned me into an avowed child of Neils Children. It’s the sort of tune that grabs you by the lapels, slaps you upside the head and demands your attention – but in the most delicate, darkly fanciful way. Eerie keyboard passages and ominous, insistent bass (somebody’s been listening to a lot of Carol Kaye!) subvert the melody’s almost childlike charms – an impression that is accentuated by flourishes of primal, post-punk drumming. The perfect blend of dark and bright. The rest of "Dimly Lit" follows a similar pattern: clicking, plectrum-heavy bass riffs (straight outta the "SMiLE" playbook) establish a mood that is subsequently embellished by ghostly keys, all of which is reshaped and redefined – in some cases undercut – by choppy, no-nonsense drumming. It is a fascinating formula, one that led Dimly Lit’s place in not only my top 10 of 2013, but our esteemed Active Listener's as well.
Formed in 1999, Neils Children eventually disbanded in 2010, only to announce their reformation late 2012. With "Dimly Lit", the first fruits of this rebirth, NC have pulled off the most improbable of feats in rock: they created a reunion album that not only justifies reformation – it demands an encore. And so to cap off a triumphant year comes a single that decisively puts the lie to the idea that soufflés can’t be reheated.
"The Highs and Lows", the longer and more strident of the two, juxtaposes heavy and soft sounds against a rock-solid rhythm and a chorus that pulses with despair ("The world looks bad to me…"). Gloom never sounded this haunting and hypnotic…or this catchy. Clocking in at a whopping five and a half minutes, however, the track feels a little on the long side, but that’s a structural criticism that shouldn’t matter to anyone who likes the track in the first place.
Although both tracks impress, it is the B-side that is the real gem here. Beguiling and mysterious, "You" features wistful vocals over a lilting, summery backing that advances and recedes like waves on a dreamy, lysergic beach. Add to this peaceful seaside scene an unexpected – and truly welcome – blast of fuzz guitar that buzzes above it all like a bird circling its unwitting prey, and you have a bright summer on the dark side. And therein lies the essence of Neils Children’s brilliance.

Available as a limited edition 7" or download here:

11 Dec 2013

Wolf People "When The Fire is Dead in the Grate" Review

Reviewed by Chris Sherman

The new EP "When the Fire Is Dead In Grate" from Wolf People comes on the heels of their successful and highly praised 2013 LP "Fain". The EP is named after the song of the same title, which is the opening track here. For those unfamiliar with it, “Grate” is one of the standout songs from Fain; as I noted earlier this year in a review of their live show, it is “a cornucopia full of heavy riffery that had heads bobbing and made this guitarist just want to go home and practice his chops”. A band that loves the quiet/ loud dynamics, this effect is used exquisitely here, with a heavy opening riff followed by gentle guitar strums under softly sung vocals. The real treat though is in the coda, where the band gets into a funky yet propelling groove not unlike something one of their idols Mecki Mark Men might have utilized in their time, with a slithery guitar workout building, leading to a reprise of the intro riff.
The new material here is what the fans will come for, and these aren’t just typical b-sides. In fact, I want to venture the guess that these are completely brand new recordings and not leftovers from the LP sessions, as there is a slight difference in the sound of these recordings (then again, one can do quite the job while mixing). With that in mind, “All Returns Part 2” picks up right where the first one leaves off (try playing them back to back!), as the original’s fade-out fades back up over a loose groove. This quickly picks up in tempo though, as the drums begin to race, and we are treated to a vaguely Dungen-esque portion before coming to an abrupt halt.
The final song, “Become the Ground”, begins as a tender acoustic ballad before changing gears and an electric guitar call and response battle begins. I am particularly fond of this one, in that it reminds me of Wolf People’s first proper LP Steeple, yet in an evolutionary way, which is something all good bands should be striving for. A nifty little EP for both new listeners and their established fan base alike.

12" Vinyl Available Here.
You can stream the whole E.P through the Soundcloud embed below - please hit refresh if not visible.

10 Dec 2013

Hi-Fiction Science Announce New Album "Curious Yellow" / Premiere New Track

Active Listener favorites Hi-Fiction Science have supplied us with details on their upcoming sophomore release.
Since their debut guitarist James McKeown has released several excellent solo albums, and teamed up with HFS drummer Aidan Searle, appearing on Fruits de Mer Records offshoot Strange Fish series as Dead Pylons.
Hi-Fiction Science reappeared earlier this year, with their version of "King Midas In Reverse" being a highlight of Fruits De Mers Hollies tribute "Re-Evolution".
Now streaming below we have "Magpies" an alternative mix of one of the tracks that will appear on their new album, which we're looking forward to immensely.
From the band:
Hi-Fiction Science return in 2014 with their second album 'Curious Yellow' . The self-produced album was recorded in Geoff Barrow's (Portishead) State of Art studio with Stuart Matthews, overdubbed at Pilgrims Way, Bristol and mixed with Jim Barr (Portishead/Get The Blessing) at J&J Studios, Bristol.
The 10 track album of original material see’s the band further define their unique sound that explores a variety of genres including; Psych –Folk, Art- rock, Kosmiche and a minimalist electronica element.
The band have commissioned Johnny ‘O’ of Rocket Recordings to create the cover artwork.
Release Date: Spring 2014
Tentative tracklisting:
1.Digitalis, 2. Circles in Halftone, 3.Magpies (Against the Sun) 4. Vapour 5. Curious Yellow 6. Komorebi 7. 1000 Years 8. Collapsed Group 9. Fragmenting Sons 10. Squaretaker.

Follow Hi-Fiction Science on Facebook here.

Stream "Magpies" below (hit refresh if Soundcloud embed isn't visible).

"Kontroversial Kovers - 32 Original Kinky 60s Mod/Garage/Freakbeat Kovers From The Six Kontinents Of Planet Daviesland" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Here's an underground title that deserves a widespread release - I could only find two mentions of it online at all, one an expired eBay option, and another listing for it at Chicago's excellent Permanent Records.
The concept is simple - why not put together a Nuggets style compilation of Kinks covers? Why not indeed. So here we have 32 tracks recorded between 1965 and 1969, all written by Mr Raymond Douglas Davies, and recorded by 32 different bands of the era with varying degrees of obscurity, but a remarkable level of consistency.
Coming from the time period it does, the earlier raw r&b Kinks tunes dominate with only the odd diversion into "Face to Face" and beyond, especially noteworthy in this field being Mexican band Los Angeles (confusing I know) who tackle Waterloo Sunset in their native tongue, putting a strangely exotic spin on a song as British as buttered crumpets.
It's not all obscurities either - the Human Instinct conquer all with their raucous version of "You Really Got Me" with it's ascending backing vocals souding like a rough blueprint for T.Rex's chart conquering glam rock stomp, and Lemmy's first band of note, the Rockin' Vicker's making an appearance with their final single, "Dandy" - although those expecting a louder than anything else Motorhead style rocker will be setting themselves up for disappointment in that department.
Garage jangle is the dominant sound on display here, with plenty of Yardbirds style rave-ups but there's also room for diversions into exotic psych-pop (Los Cincos' "Most Exclusive Residence For Sale") and most impressive of all perhaps, The Blue Orchids lovely girl-group take on "I've Got That Feeling" (actually released before the Kinks version), an unexpected inversion of the Motown girl group covers strewn amongst the Kinks early recordings.
Lovingly remastered over two slabs of red and blue vinyl, this is a thoroughly entertaining diversion that every Kinks or vintage garage fan NEEDS in their collection.

Available here.

9 Dec 2013

Volage "Maddie" EP Review

Reviewed by Amanda Votta

Hailing from France, yet with something distinctly American in their sound, Volage play incredibly infectious, poppy yet noisy garage rock. There are hints of surf rock in their harmonies and a swirl of something London psychedelic as well.
“I’m a Fool” is a perfect example of their ability to take cues from a variety of genres and make them work together perfectly, creating a sound that’s distinctly their own. It’s what you might expect if the Beach Boys and the Beatles got together in a studio and in wandered Jefferson Airplane with T. Rex in tow. The fuzzed out guitars, swirly harmonies, and infectiously boppy beat epitomize Volage’s sound and stated band interests of fuzz and flowers.
Their blend of the trashy and the shimmery is what makes them distinct from other bands attempting a similar sound right now—it’s what makes them more memorable, their songs more engaging and infectious. Even on a track like “Bob is Alive,” which has a darker and more menacing overtone than their other songs, they manage to keep that balance. The distorted vocals, fuzzed up even more guitars and more prominent bass line are complimented by an acoustic guitar that weaves in and out of the ever-so-slightly-calmer moments in the song. Its soft tones come and go at just the right moments, serving to keep that hint of a flowery 60’s pop sound alive much like the proverbial street light in the middle of an otherwise dark road.
This balance is also reflected not just in the distortion/brightness contrast, but also in the sound quality itself. This is not an album recorded, mixed and mastered in a top flight studio by over-priced engineers. What it is though is an album that was recorded, mixed and mastered in such a way as to leave the life in the songs, to make them more immediate and therefore more human. The sound is much closer to that heard on a recording from the 60’s than is otherwise heard today, which is a decidedly good thing. There wouldn’t be any grit left to even the bright - that menacing vibe wouldn’t survive intact or come across so well otherwise.
With "Maddie" Volage have concocted a collection of brightly dirty surf and psych tunes that keep that grit front and center, demonstrating that they know the importance of not just a well-structured song, but of a ragged, trashy sound.

Volage on Facebook.

Stream or buy "Maddie" on 10" Vinyl here.

8 Dec 2013

John's Children "A Strange Affair - The Sixties Recordings" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Managed by Yardbirds Manager Simon Napier-Bell (who named the band after bass player John Hewlett in the hope that it would keep the rest of the band from sacking him), John's Children managed to build a sizeable legacy and a fearsome reputation that collectors, mod fans and primitive psychedelicists alike are still cherishing today.
This exhaustive new two disc collection from Grapefruit Recordings (which includes all known recorded output from 1966-1970) is the perfect balancer to test whether their reputation rests solely on their purposefully outrageous onstage / offstage antics (they were kicked off of their support slot for the Who's 1967 tour for being (in Pete Townshend's words) "too loud and violent"), or on their own musical credentials.
Most well known to the general public (if at all) as Marc Bolan's first band, it's really Andy Ellison who's the star of the show here, taking lead vocals on most tracks (including "Desdemona" and "Midsummer's Night's Scene", the two Bolan penned shoulda been hits) and guiding the band through it's many ups and downs. Bolan himself was only a member for around four months and took a bit of time to acclimatise to his role as a primal electric guitarist rather than the whimsical wyrd-folk that was his more natural disposition at the time.
Disc One begins by collecting their various singles and B-Sides - largely the stuff their reputation was built on, and it's material that has aged exceptionally well with a punchy, primitive mod edge that straddles early Who and Pretty Things, lashings of psychedelia and on "Remember Thomas A. Beckett" a memorable falsetto vocal and distinctly odd verse melody that makes it a highlight of the era.
All very impressive so far then. Following on from this we have a raft of much more ornate studio recordings credited to Andy Ellison solo. These are much less raunchy but nonetheworse for it, and show a subtlety that one wouldn't expect to flower from those early singles. There are even a couple of Beatles covers that sound like Andy singing over backing tracks from early Dusty Springfield records - very classy, totally unexpected, and hugely rewarding.
Disc Two continues with the infamous "Orgasm" album - a fake live album, recorded in studio with overdubbed crowd noise "borrowed" from the Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night" and mixed at twice the volume of the music itself. It's nowhere near as much of a brow furrower as you've been lead to believe though and is thoroughly enjoyable once you've acclimatised to the excessive background noise. Round this out with a batch of sundry outtakes and alternative takes and you've got a diverse mixture of uniformly strong material that deserves more attention than footnote status among Bolan fans and proves that there was much more potential here to be tapped.

52 track double CD available here.

7 Dec 2013

Robert Wyatt '68 Review

Reviewed by Chris Sherman (Sky Picnic)

Earlier this fall saw the release of Canterbury prog rock legend Robert Wyatt’s album ’68, a series of demos and previously thought lost recordings he made (mostly) solo in the fall of 1968 in America. This of course occurred after the Soft Machine toured as openers for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and briefly disbanded (re-uniting early in 1969 Kevin Ayers-less). Wyatt spent this alone time getting these songs committed to tape.
As with all archival releases, there tends to be some unpolished portions and a slightly rougher sound, but really, that is part of the charm; albums as such are what keeps the thirst us hardcore fans have for alternate takes and demos satiated. What we have on this album shows just how talented the multi-instrumental Wyatt was. To me, he was the Soft Machine, and upon leaving the group, their subsequent output was spotty at most. In all honesty, one could even argue this change happened around the time of their masterpiece double LP Third, as by 1971’s Fourth, Robert was no longer singing nor composing for the Softs. But that’s a discussion for another time…
Opening up this collection is the organ- centric “Chelsa”, a song that would be developed further a few years later on the first Matching Mole album. This leads to “Rivmic Melodies”, as most would recognize as the basis for side one of Soft Machine’s Volume Two. The first minute or so could actually pass as the final version (I guess Robert played piano on the master as well?), before the “Precise British Alphabet” section deviates into a “meandering British alphabet”, full of free form alphabet reciting over a series of drum patterns and fills. Quintessential Wyatt. From there, he begins singing in mostly broken Spanish as a piano melody re-enters, before returning to more familiar grounds of “Hulloder” and “Dada Was Here”. This builds into some casual, yet frantic, jam territory, before returning to a calmer lyrical coda that winds this piece down. Pay special attention to the thank you message in said lyrics to Jimi and the rest of the Experience for the exposure the Softs received on tour.
Speaking of Mr. Hendrix, he contributes the bass part to the bouncy “Slow Walkin Talk”. It definitely has the feel of something he helped inspire, with a swinging shuffle tempo, and a rather straightforward lyric. Rounding this out is “Moon In June”, which is widely considered Robert’s masterpiece Soft Machine composition. It is already in a finalized form here, albeit much slower, although I almost prefer the barren looseness of this take (note: for the ultimate version, please check out the BBC Radio 67-71 album). Already in place are the stream-of-conscious lyrics and now it all makes sense when he gets to the New York state lyrics (the site of this demo recording). The first section continues its build before reaching an appearance by the full band (Ratledge on organ and Hopper on bass) performing the second section with tight precision for an early take (also, listen closely and you can hear where perhaps the Crimson guys got their inspiration from, or is it just me?), and then crescendos before dropping to the spacy final section.
All in all, a great album, although for those unfamiliar with Wyatt’s work, I am not sure I would make this my starting place. But having this added to his legendary body of work is quite the treat and something for both SM and Wyatt fans to cherish.

Available on CD, Vinyl, or digital.

5 Dec 2013

Steve Cradock "Travel Wild, Travel Free" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The last few months has seen reviews piling up for this album all over the place online - all uniformly positive, and pretty much all expressing various levels of amazement that that bloke from Ocean Colour Scene could pull this out of his hat.
In all fairness while Ocean Colour Scene do have a habit of accentuating all of the worst elements from a bunch of fabulous vintage Brit boogie bands, Mr Cradock's stock has risen considerably with his other ventures.
Aside from a lengthy stint in Paul Weller's band, Cradock has also launched a solo career that has become progressively more interesting with each release and this latest, "Travel Wild, Travel Free" is the sort of album that's likely to lead to a large number of hats being eaten.
While he's shown signs of creative restlessness on previous solo outings, this is the first time that he's fully shrugged off the vintage trad rock mantle and embraced the latent psychedelia that one had always hoped was lurking underneath the surface, and the resulting album is a glorious outpouring of technicolour psychedelic pop music that occasionally reverts to the riffy rocking of OCS, but more often than not reaches the heady lysergic heights of the best of Carnaby Street's sugar coated psychedelic output.
There's still a slight mod edge to proceedings - nothing wrong with that if done well, but Cradock's vocals (and those of his wife who features in a supporting role) are treated with all manner of trippy effects, and Cradock himself often reverts to an effecting falsetto that negates any traces of lad rock.
The cover itself is a pretty good indicator of the contents - a paisley tinged "Tupelo Honey" - full of honest soul with a nicely lysergic sheen.
At its best its like a mod Beaulieu Porch and frankly, it's at it's best for most of the running time.
A fantastic psychedelic mod-pop album with an everything but the kitchen sink approach that sounds like something the engineers at Abbey Road spent all of 1968 labouring over.
Abandon all prejudices here, and prepare to be wowed.

Available on vinyl, digital and CD here.

Dodson & Fogg Interviewed.

Interview by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon).

Dodson and Fogg are, to this writer’s mind, one of music’s finest and most intriguing exponents of modern psychedelia. So, to mark the release of their latest opus ‘The Call’, I asked Chris Wade (the multi-instrumentalist who effectively is Dodson and Fogg) a little about his past, his present (including the new album) and also about what the future holds for this unique and accomplished artist.

I’m curious as to what factors inspired you to start recording music; what led to the first Dodson and Fogg album? What was your vision for the band and your music?

Well I have always been interested in recording. My brother and I used to record a lot as kids on tape recorders and 4 track machines. I got one myself in my late teens and would mess around on it. The most you could do was at most 5 tracks though. The extra one I found out, you could overdub something as you converted it on to a proper tape, so I started learning about mixing and recording back then about 10 or so years ago. I then had a band with my brother and sister but it kind of ended and I took up the writing thing instead. It was only last year that I started recording songs again on my home set up, getting together some older ideas and some new ones. When Celia from Trees agreed to do some backing vocals I was thrilled, so from then on I started putting my all into it. If I had a vision or have one it is to keep releasing albums of varied music that pleases me and others. It's a natural development and a proper outlet for me too, so I suppose it is just going to flow on like this hopefully. I love the fact there is a small cult following interested enough in what I do to keep wanting albums. It's a childhood dream of mine to be releasing albums, so I am just enjoying the feedback.

Dodson and Fogg are hugely prolific, with ‘The Call’ being your third album this year. How do you manage to write such an amount of consistently strong material; what are your working methods? Is strong coffee involved?

I do drink a lot of coffee and tea actually, always nipping off to the toilet for a pee. I have coffee from when I first get up and also sort the cat's litter tray out first thing in the morning, and when you have three cats this is definitely the way to wake yourself up. Oh sorry that's horrible...But I do work everyday on the music now, whether it be promotion, writing lyrics, just playing the guitar and coming up with ideas, phrases, melodies. I sometimes come up with a little lyric melody and record it, maybe hum ideas into the microphone and get it down for later when I start recording it properly. So really, working from home as I do, there are no set hours and there is no time cut off either, so I could be recording at 8 in the morning or at midnight. It's like not having a turn off switch. I am only ever a few feet or metres away from my instruments. Also, to me, the three albums this year have been at a reasonable pace because I have more time to write and record than other artists who might be out touring a lot. Also, writing and recording is my job so I need to keep at it in that respect too.

There have been a number of high profile and illustrious guests on your albums such as Celia Humphris of Trees, Amanda Votta of The Floating World, Nik Turner from Hawkwind and Alison O' Donnell of Mellow Candle. How do these collaborations come about? And who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Well with Celia I was a big fan already, and had interviewed her in 2010 for my Hound Dawg Magazine, so I still had her email address. I honestly did not think she would say yes, but she did and I still cannot believe she sings on my songs. Trees were brilliant and her voice is better now than it has ever been in my opinion. It's a finely tuned instrument itself. It's good that they seem to get more popular as time goes by, because I think they are the best of that magical folk rock era. There is something special about those two albums. With Nik Turner, I heard him playing on an old Hawkwind track and thought he would sound good on some songs for the first album, so I got in touch with him and he was really nice and approachable and just sent them back to me when he had done the flute parts. I heard Amanda on a radio show I had been played on, might have been Sideways Through Sound or something, and I got in touch with her, same with Alison from Mellow Candle. It's basically that, I hear them and just think it's worth a try to ask them if they'd like to collaborate. It's really exciting when they say yes, and I love mixing their contributions into the songs. I'd like to work with Alia O Brien from Blood Ceremony. She was going to do a track on the Call but I was releasing it before she could get to the studio, but she wants to do something next year on the next album. One person I would love to work with is Ray Davies, one of my heroes. I always loved Lou Reed too, not that I would have ever got the chance to work with him though. Alison Goldfrapp has an amazing voice, so she would be amazing too, but I doubt that would ever happen.

Your music is uniquely your own yet I detect elements of 60’s British rock such as Syd Barrett, British psych and the Kinks. What influences do you have and which do you think are visible in your songwriting?

Yeah I love the Kinks, one of my very favourite bands. I love Arthur and Village Green, that lovely era where their music sounds magical. I love The Beatles, Floyd especially with Barrett, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. I like a lot of stuff, Donovan, Jethro Tull, Leonard Cohen, Zappa, Lindisfarne, Trees, Dylan, Goldfrapp, Sabbath, but I am not sure how they influence it. I never set out to replicate a band or sound, but I think the influences probably seep through into the music subconsciously like they probably do with a lot or artists. If people can spot my favourite groups from listening to my music though it must show the influences are there. The way I see it is I like to record music I can listen back to myself for pleasure. I do not get people who say they cannot listen to their own music, but then again we are all different. I just like the thrill of recording a decent track and putting in different sounds and the process of mixing and adding and taking things away. Listening back to a mix and being proud of it is such a great feeling. Hearing an album back from start to finish and being satisfied is even better, as you know yourself.

As well as your music you have had a number of other media projects on the go such as working in comedy and writing, including penning books on The Incredible String Band and Black Sabbath. Tell us more about these ventures.

The writing started in about 2008 when I did my first fiction book Cutey and the Sofaguard. That story started as a laugh really because I worked in a stationery shop and me and a friend there used to write down weird character names and odd stuff. Weird things used to happen there anyway and a lot of it got lumped together in my head and I made a full fiction story out of it. In my head I had Rik Mayall as the narrator as I wrote it, as a kind of guide for the story. When I finished it and released the book online, I one day had the idea of releasing an audiobook of it and as a spur of the moment thing I emailed Mayall's agent to ask if he would like to read it. They said they might get back to me in a month or so, so I sent it along via email and thought nothing else of it. A few days later a reply came in saying Rik wanted to do it, and I went down there to meet him, to go over the script and stuff, and a week or two later we recorded it in a dodgy studio down an alleyway in Shepherd's Bush. Really surreal. From then I started doing my free magazine, some fiction and non fiction, as well as comedy podcasts with my dad and all sorts of odd stuff. I haven't done as much of all these things since Dodson and Fogg started though.

In my humble opinion ‘The Call’ is your strongest set yet; what have been your favourite Dodson moments or the tracks you are most pleased with?

Thanks, I'm really happy you like it. I am really happy with the new album. Mystery is my personal favourite I think, and I am very proud of the work Celia has done on the new album and the other albums for that matter. It's hard to pick highlights, but I think this new album is the one I am most proud of. I think it's a confidence thing, knowing what you can do at home on a basic home set up, learning and growing as a musician, as you may agree with your own music. Suddenly off the new album is a favourite too, Ricky Romain the sitar player is astonishing. I also like Crinkle Drive off the first album with Nik, as I first wrote that song as a teen and I am really proud it has seen the light of day with him playing flute on it. All Day Long and Meet Our May as well, they were old ones I originally wrote in a different form years ago, and Celia does amazing vocals on them.

What is next for Dodson and Fogg? Any live dates? How would this work with you being effectively a one-man band?

I keep wanting to do them but I just like recording really when I think about it. I don't really personally know any musicians who might want to do it and every time I get in touch with some interested people I never commit to it. Maybe I'm not meant to do it until it's all right and fitting into place perfectly. I guess I could go out with a bass drum on my back, a guitar, a flute up my.... no..... not that. I think I will stick to recording for now. The next thing to do is to write more songs and get an album together for some time next year. I have some ideas at the minute, been messing around recording today actually, but I am going to take my time over the next one.


Grey Malkin's review of "The Call"

The Dodson & Fogg Website.

Dodson & Fogg on Facebook.