Just a quick post in the middle of my Antipodean Summer break to say hi all and share my top ten albums of the year list. Pardon the sparseness and lack of visual stimuli on this post, but I'm on my phone in the wilderness so this is as pretty as it's gonna get.
Here's my ten favourite releases of the year in alphabetical rather than preferential order. Links lead to reviews and/or purchasing/listening opportunities. Any Amazon purchases made via these links will earn us a little commission, so do us a favour and go nuts.
Without further ado, my albums of the year are:
Dead Horse One "Without Love We Perish"
Recommended if you like: Ride
Gulp "Season Sun"
Recommend if you like: Broadcast, Stereolab
Octopus Syng "Reverberating Garden # 7"
Recommended if you like: Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd
Paperhead "Africa Avenue"
Recommended if you like: The Beatles, Pink Floyd
Ty Segall "Manipulator"
Recommended if you like: Love, T-Rex
The Unseen "Mary"
Recommended if you like: Giallo/horror soundtracks
Various Artists "A Day in My Mind's Mind Vol 4"
Recommended if you like: Rubble/Nuggets compilations
The War on Drugs "Lost In The Dream"
Recommended if you like: Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Vile
Jane Weaver "The Silver Globe"
Recommended if you like: Broadcast, McCartney II
White Fence "For The Recently Found Innocent"
Recommended if you like: The Who, The Kinks, Ty Segall
Hit us with your top tens in the comments.
26 Dec 2014
18 Dec 2014
Album Review: Jane Weaver "The Silver Globe"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
This had been sitting in my 'haven't quite gotten around to listening' pile for quite some time before Piccadilly Records lit a fire under my arse by naming it their album of the year, and you've got to hand it to them - they sure can pick 'em, and judging by this, Jane Weaver sure can make 'em too.
Being signed to Finders Keepers Records is basically a guaranteed seal of quality, but it's rare for one of their releases to have the immediacy, and the hooks that Weaver displays here on her sixth(?) album. Recorded between an old vicarage and Vox Recording Studios in Los Angeles on 'experimental' analogue equipment by David Holmes and Andy Votel, "The Silver Globe" will make fans of Stereolab, Broadcast and the Soundcarriers absolutely ecstatic. Summoning a similarly timeless vintage vibe, Weaver exerts more than enough of her own touch to stave off cries of plagiarism. And I doubt that any of the bands just mentioned (as much as I love them all) have a single in them with as much cross-over potential as "The Electric Mountain", which is absolutely outstanding, and a chart topper in a fair and just world.
And then there's "Don't Take My Soul", which sounds inescapably like an escapee from "McCartney II" which has been hijacked by Kate Bush. I can't be the only one that appeals to - right? I could go on of course (and I normally would), but the best thing you could do right now is hit play on the youtube embed below, and then inevitably reach for your wallet. I don't have time to work out an albums of the year list this year, but if I were to do so, this would be very, very nearly top dog. Outstanding.
"The Silver Globe" is available here on CD, and here on vinyl.
16 Dec 2014
Album Review: Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill "Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
From The Rowan Amber Mill, arguably one of the foremost and best proponents of wyrd folk currently active in the UK, comes a very welcome early festive present. With collaborator and Angeline Morrison adding winter warmth with her vocals (this paring were last heard together on the superb 'Songs From The Black Meadow' compilation), 'Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening' is an essential companion for these dark, midwinter evenings when the shadows and cold are encroaching and a little Yule spirit is much needed.
First up is a haunting reading of 'Silent Night', which has always been one of the more eerie of the traditional carols. Appropriately, this take is candlelit, reflective and ethereal, evoking the icy ambient shimmer of Fovea Hex's work or Rose McDowall's winter solstice collaborations with Coil. Gently picked acoustic guitar is framed perfectly by xylophone and ghostly, reverbed keyboards with Morrison's vocals a revelation and utterly bewitching. Next, 'Cold Winter Morning'( a Rowan Amber Mill/ Morrison original and the highlight of the album for this listener) is a beautiful, spectral frost of a song. Glistening piano descends, dances and cascades around Morrison's gossamer vocals whilst a magical ambience curls around each note like breath on a frozen morning. This is a song that the likes of Vashti Bunyan would be proud to have written, indeed it does remind one of her 'Lookaftering' period. The traditional 'I Saw Three Ships' is a medieval procession, flute and the buzz of crumhorn providing a suitable woody backing for Angeline's intertwining vocal lines. It's at once both uplifting and otherworldly. Indeed, some of these tracks may be traditional songs or carols but they are not necessarily straightforward traditionally performed versions; with The Rowan Amber Mill there is always a delicious dose of wyrd or the more acidic variety of folk present to add a psychedelic sheen and shimmer to proceedings. 'Sleepy Woodyard' is another Stephen Stannard (the one man musical genius behind The Rowan Amber Mill) original, an instrumental of heartbreaking gorgeousness; piano, strings, choirs and slide guitar merge to form a perfect piece of pastoral prog pop. Enchanting and evocative of still, December nights there is a beautiful melancholy at play here. 'Wassail', another traditional tune arranged by the artists, is a stately evocation to the land for a plentiful harvest come the summertime. Morrison's vocals are perfection here, the backing track of guitar, harmonium and accordion fully sympathetic to the building and layering atmosphere of the song; it is yet another standout moment on an already accomplished album. To finish, an instrumental take of 'Silent Night' melts into the midnight air, winter winds beginning to howl before a distant, glistening keyboard provides a beacon of light to end.
Yuletide is a time of tradition, of ghosts and of ritual to survive the darkness until the sun returns. With this album Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill provide all of these elements and more. Huddle closer to the fire, pull the blanket tighter and enjoy some silent night songs for a cold winter's evening.
Available now from rowanambermill.bandcamp.com as a download or as a hand numbered, handcrafted digipak limited edition (choose between either a pure white glossy digipak or a folky, buff recycled card digipak). Both versions feature a beautiful front cover illustration by Angeline Morrison.
Album Review: "The Reverb Conspiracy 3"
Reviewed by Dedric Moore (KC Psych Fest, Monta At Odds, Gemini Revolution)
European label Fuzz Club Records and the American Reverb Appreciation Society (Austin Psych Fest) are set to co-release the third volume of their psych compilation series The Reverb Conspiracy.
So Vol. III kicks off with exactly what you would expect with The Oscillation and Holy Science bringing the southwest psych grooves and lots of guitars. The energy is up and the fuzz creeps in. One note to appreciate is the fact that the guitars are laying down some solos that actually solo (they spent some time learning their licks, man) and the one two punch is a great start. Deathcrush jumps in and you think you might have skipped to the next playlist in your itunes. Pounding drums and distorto bass post-punk it up and then walls of guitar storm in an push the mix to overload. Then the next track makes you get up again and see if you skipped to a different playlist with The History of Colour TV giving it to you with bits of dreampop, shoegaze and a heaping of tribal drums and watery bass. It's expertly done and you'll be web searching to see if they are a new band or a lost classic.
Singapore Sling pumps up the drum machine and then smacks it sideways with garage rock guitars and "I'm Bored of Singing to You" vocals. (There might be some typos as I bounce along while reviewing). Newcandys bring us back to more familiar territory with some vintage riffing and reverbed vocals that hint at the Paisley Underground era. Sound Sweet Sound add the twang and drop some flute in the mix with a great female vocal lead that rides the groove perfectly. Undisco Kidd turns a two and half minute "rock single" into an extended jam for the last half of the song. Guitar Effects! God, I love that. Not too much and not too little and just the right amount of fuzz on everything at the end.
Camera picks up the tempo and gets a West Coast boogie meets Krautrock jam going, and it's cool so calm down. Future blast out with reverb on the snare that blasts into outer space and they add it some wiggy guitar to match. Another one of those you'll have to look up to see if this was found on a cassette in a closet or just recorded. Either way it brings the stereo wall of sound that asks, keyboard? guitar? and is great stuff to lose track of time. Mugstar bring the tempo down but not the heavy. Organ guitar bass riffage! Fat beats! Epic vibe! One Unique Signal push the tempo back up and jam stereo guitars pounding on top of a post-punk bass drum groove. Feedback everywhere at times and the band is amped up and you can hear it.
GOAT and Anton Newcombe collaborate on an Indian-tinged dirge that has ragga drones and as usual compelling vocal chanting. The mix is great. You can hear layers of acoustic instruments and percussion that sound WARM and you'll want to close your eyes and let your imagination flow to this headtrip. Lola Colt bring us a slow burner that spends its first 3 minutes unloading guitars and then pulls it back for the vocals to ring in. Don't worry they bring it all back and then some. Francois Sky wind up the release with a perfect exit song. Dreamy drone and sitar with a feel good bass and drums groove that conjurer up kaleidoscope visuals and float along into the distance.
Pre-order available now.
15 Dec 2014
New Radiophonic Workshop Album Released
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop (or the Radiophonic Workshop as they are now known) reconvened in 2013 for live performances, which those of us who were unable to attend the shows can now experience via this brand new studio album.
Available here through Society of Sound.
Track by track description from Workshop members.
"In 2013 the Radiophonic Workshop reconvened to play live and to rekindle that spirit of innovation in sound. Building on their legacy and with the benefit of another 16 years of what may loosely be referred to as “progress” since the Workshop closed in 1998 (there are, after all, times when only a tape loop, tobacco tin or malfunctioning sweep generator will do) they have once again taken up residence on the outer boundary of sound design.
The time spent at Real World Studios, where most of this work was conceived and recorded, was both invigorating and liberating for the group’s members. Like their old home at the BBC’s Maida Vale (minus the many layers of cheap green industrial emulsion) Real World studios proved to be a creative playground for these lovers of sound. The space in which the work is created has always been important and has a profound impact on the kind of work composers are able to produce. The group took over the studio, filling the iconic Big Room with synthesisers (ancient and modern), gadgets, lampshades, knobs, dials, found objects and children’s toys. It became a Workshop-away-from-home. A stairwell provided both an additional instrument and a wonderful acoustic space in which a Big Idea evolved. In a tiny back room, reminiscent of a BBC broom cupboard, Dr Dick Mills set up Studer and TASCAM tape machines to create loops and labyrinths of feedback into which were fed analogue bleeps and concrête clanks from 8 bit samplers and the objects and sounds found about the building.
Audio was moulded and sculpted. Compositions evolved, dissolved and recrystalised over time, with thestudio itself employed as a compositional tool - every part of that experience is integrated into the work. At one point the engineers were persuaded (they didn’t need much persuading, to be honest!) to run cables out to the weir in the studio grounds, recording its gurgles and glugs on a Soundfieldmicrophone. Binaural microphones were set into a pair of spectacles worn by Peter Howell who then sound-mapped his physical journey through the workspace. And, yes, Delia Derbyshire’s infamous greenRadiophonic lampshade (used to make many of the tones and sounds the Workshop became famous for in the early 1960s) makes a guest appearance too.
Out of this joyous experimentation emerged the motifs and ideas that became this album. It marks a very creative and special time in the Radiophonic Workshop’s continuing story and may even hint at some of what is to follow. Welcome to our Radiophonic world."
Album Review: Del Shannon "The Further Adventures of Charles Westover"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Del Shannon's late sixties renaissance went largely unnoticed at the time, but the work he produced in 1967 and 1968 is not only among his best, but among the best baroque pop of the era. After signing with Liberty Records in 1966 he cut an excellent album in London with producer Andrew Loog Oldham having high hopes for the sort of critical acclaim that "Pet Sounds" had recently achieved. Liberty quickly dashed those hopes by shelving the album, after several singles stalled, eventually releasing it many years later (to much deserved critical adulation) as "Home & Away".
Andrew Loog Oldham and Shannon's brief partnership ended there, but an artistically reinvigorated Shannon was back in the studio at home in America before too long with producers Dugg Brown & Dan Bourgoise, putting together 1968's "The Further Adventures of Charles Westover" (Shannon's birth-name in case you were interested). Where "Home & Away" had apparently seen Andrew Loog Oldham provide the impetus, "The Further Adventures of Charles Westover" saw Shannon take charge, writing or co-writing almost all of the material. It also broadened Shannon's horizons exponentially beyond the baroque pop trappings of "Home & Away" to incorporate psychedelia, gospel, and the hard, funky, swamp blues of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tony Joe White.
Far from the bandwagon-jumping shenanigans of other rock 'n' roll era artists struggling to remain relevant, Shannon's material here has the scope and range to incorporate these influences without being buried by them. Del's wonderful tenor sounds impeccable in these lush surrounds, and his songwriting is at its strongest and most consistent. The baroque pop stylings of "Home & Away" are taken to new levels of excellence on the stunning single "Gemini" and stretched into new realms of swirling psychedelia on "Magical Musical Box" and "Silver Birch". But it doesn't end there. The earthy swamp funk of "Be My Friend" seems like a blueprint for what could have been a very successful next step in his evolution. And best of all are several moodier pieces which revel in their kaleidoscopic colours without sacrificing their sense of drama or grandeur; "I Think I Love You" with its minor-key sitar accompaniment, and the closing "New Orleans (Mardi Gras)" which builds to epic proportions. Unfortunately, despite a surfeit of great songs, "The Further Adventures of Charles Westover" failed to sell in quantities even remotely measurable against its obvious quality.
For an artist who is most well known for his 1961 hit "Runaway", it will be surprising for many to discover that his definitive artistic statements come via two later albums - one that his label didn't even deem worthy of release in 1967, and particularly, this commercially underperforming gem with a cult reputation. Chicago's Trouble in Mind have just released "The Further Adventures of Charles Westover" on vinyl - its first legitimate vinyl reissue ever, and an absolutely essential purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in psychedelic pop or baroque pop.
Available directly from Trouble in Mind Records here.
14 Dec 2014
E.P Review: Jorge Arana Trio "OSO"
Reviewed by Dedric Moore (KC Psych Fest / Monta at Odds / Gemini Revolution)
Math-rock meets psych? Precise time signatures and perfectly timed ups and downs with frenetic playing comes to mind. How do you psych that out without it becoming a dreadful mess? You should ask Jorge Arana Trio because they did the math and came up with the right formula (couldn't resist the pun) Add in a secret element of free-jazz and I'd call it Fuzzy Math Rock.
"Foredoom" starts off with a build and then unloads guitar, bass and drums in a heavy perfectly locked speedy rhythm. But the second half slows down to glacial speed and things get dreamy and weird as Jorge's guitar strums as effects pile on and you can feel a hypnotic sway take over your body. Once you are settled then "Kallisto" kicks in with squelchy guitar stabs and heavy syncopated bass and drums. When the Trio could have gone heavy or even metal, they choose to add a softer touch with some jazzy chords and excellently timed stutters that keep you perked up waiting to hear what is coming next.
"Crime of Passion Fruit" kicks it up to the "heavy" realm without getting into doom and gloom. The bass and drums bring on the indie rock vibe ala Tortoise or Trans Am and the guitar is pitch bent and determined to melt the strings with a twisted solo (again not metal) that gets the band going wild.
"Old Bamboo" kicks off side two of the EP with a marching groove that sounds like the Trio watched fight scenes from "Flash Gordon" and channeled Queen's bombastic soundtrack into a modern indie rock song. Josh Enyart shows off his drumming skills with complicated drum fills but matches it with dynamics to build up the song from medium to scorching. Then the songs dials it back to show off Jason Nash's bass virtuosity as he adds runs and grooves in the empty spaces.
"Banished to Siberia" finishes off the EP with a bouncing post-rock tune that punches yet has a lot of swing in the groove. I wish the TV on the Radio LP had a track with this energy. And then at the end the song crashes down to a guitar stab and ride cymbal as the Trio add in an ominous vocal chant that carries on through to the end.
It's a short EP at 15 minutes or so but you feel like you got a heavy dose of listening in. It comes in translucent purple or black with a silk-screened cover. The package is impressive inside and out.
12 Dec 2014
Album Review: MANGABROS "Soulcoalblack"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
By all accounts this, the debut album from Sheffield’s 'ballardian psycho bluesmen' mangabros (essentially a one man band of Craig Manga with collaborators), has been percolating for several years before exposure into the sunlight. Which is apt as this is a dark beast indeed, a mixture of prog intention and storyline (there is a concept at work here), Coil style glitches and electronic squelches, a Floydian sense of the epic and ultimately, some very fine songwriting indeed. The band have been described by Bill Nelson as "brave and uncompromising"; indeed this is an album that needs close attention and is designed to be heard as a whole, a suite of both sorrowful and sinister beauty.
Not unlike a darker hued Radiohead, manga bros meld fractured Warp style beats with haunted piano and soaring, anguished vocals. Opener 'Musical Chairs' is a prime example, Craig Manga's voice towers over mournful minor piano keys, propelled by electronic percussion. It is both hugely accomplished and deeply affecting; there is a genuine quality to Manga's vocals that evokes a similar connection with the listener heard in the work of such luminaries as Peter Hammill, Thom Yorke or Gavin Friday. 'Z-The Nada Song' picks up the post-apocalyptic storyline, a survivor reminiscing over glistening strings, bowed guitar and quite the most beautiful piano melody you will hear of late. It's a sombre but stand out moment, reminding this listener of Peter Hammill's break up opus 'Over' as well as some of Jeff Buckley's more tear stained moments. The heartbreak and isolation is all too tangible. 'Weissmuller' appropriately starts with a Tarzan call (in honour of the title's namesake Johnny, as this track describes his lonesome death) which returns throughout the song, whilst Twin Peaks reverbed guitar and shimmering piano accentuate the spooked nature of the narrative. Another sonnet from the shadows; Johnny Greenwood would give his right arm to come up with something as squelchy, haunted and downright atmospheric as this. 'Bunny Girl' is a towering, analogue waltz, a fairground ride to hell. Keyboards emulate a Stranglers 'Waltz In Black' mood, a sinister and doomed carousel that carries Manga's voice towards the coda with its waterfall of piano notes and vintage style synths washing over the grief inherent in the song. This is a hugely emotive album, clearly inspired by events in the artist’s life as well as the aforementioned post-apocalyptic narrative. Fans of Steven Wilson's solo work and Porcupine Tree will find much to love here; a multitude of musical twists and turns and a real, broken heart beating at the source of these songs.
'The Blue Scrawl', this listener’s stand out track on the album, is a string drenched perfectly formed piece of tension, grandiose ambition, prog textures and epic vocals. Echoes of Nick Grey's seminal 'Thieves Among Thorns' abound here; there is a similar late night air of dread and anguish and equally perfect paring of musical electronics and organics. 'King Of Tarts' heads further into Coil/twisted ‘Kid A’ glitch territory with backwards tapes and sound effects accentuating the collapse of a relationship whilst 'His Side', with its percussive guitar and Mike Garson style discordant piano is truly disturbing. 'Black Pop Caucasian Vampire Blues' is sky-scraping, Manga's voice resplendent over the tension of the piano and the treated strings. It is a hold your breath moment. 'Celebration of Wounds' follows in the same vein, more dread filled perhaps but just as beautifully wrought. These are songs for the darkest part of the night on the coldest day of the year. Beats enter, heightening the drama that fuels the song and adding an urgency; this music should really be scoring some post-apocalyptic widescreen cinematic experience, World War Z if it had been more arthouse and less Brad Pitt blockbuster. In fact, consider this an alternate soundtrack to Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later'. 'Fag Trucker' is a Floydian 'Welcome To The Machine' style stomp; percussive machinery and metallic but fluid guitar stalking the track. Indeed there is something of Water's Floyd in Manga Bros; nakedly tormented and emotionally bare, backed by a symphony of massively inventive music designed to create an atmosphere and mood as much as hit the right notes. Returning to the apocalyptic storyline 'Z -The Shiva Palimpsest' offers a glimmer of light and hope, albeit amongst those persistent shadows. The most incredible guitar lines burst between the verses; Gilmouresque and hugely affecting. Next up, 'Black Guitar's spectral piano, orchestral sweep of electronica and psych guitar explosions remind one of Ulver's recent ‘Messes I.X-VI.X’, a requiem mass of dramatics and sinister manipulation of sound and inner torment.
'Dead Riff’s haunted choir is a gnarled gospel; Manga's broken vocals here reminiscent of grunge bluesman Mark Lanegan. The ambition present in this music is immediately obvious; this is not lo-fi but is music that yearns for the epic, the momentous and for the emotional and heartfelt connection with the listener. 'Z- The Last Ghost Story', its melancholy piano glistening and cascading across the fallout drenched burnt, grey landscape, is a charred autumnal lament. The album closes with 'Black Midi, Black Rain', a downpour of electronics thundering upon the speakers before a scratching sound suddenly enters and ends. A ghostly end to a haunted house of an album. The listener is left dazed; the scope and breadth of the story arc and the creative overwhelm of Manga Bros is not your average listen.
This album is not like anything else you will hear. Indeed, how to describe this music leaves all descriptions both relevant and redundant. Prog, electronica, rock, psych, conceptual; all feature but fall short of describing the sheer experience of this music. And 'Soalcoalblack' is an experience; a shattering, affecting, uplifting and haunting one at that. This is a headphones on, lights dimmed kind of album. What are you waiting for?
CD, download and stream available here:
Sacred Shrines / Arcesia / Kentin Jivek With The Hare & The Moon / Holögrama / Ultimate Painting
"Apollo" / "Hung Up On Your Wall" earlier on this year, with the heavy rocking "Apollo" getting the cover credit and presumably the lion's share of the attention. Much more interesting to these ears, is "Hung Up On Your Wall", a melancholy slice of melodic, jangly folk-rock, with a distinctly lysergic tinge. Sacred Shrines have just released an excellent, kaleidoscopic video clip to accompany "Hung Up On Your Wall", with its paisley visuals proving a perfect match for the tune. It'll be interesting to see which of these two extremes the band pursue now. I'm hoping that the band's decision to invest in this video can be viewed as a signpost for future efforts.
"Reachin". Urban legend has it that Arcesia had become obsessed with L.S.D and that this album was recorded under its influence, although that theory has been largely debunked. Upon listening it becomes clear why folks would presume this to be true however. It's a pretty bizarre experience. His faceless band shine, but are largely overshadowed by one of the most individual vocal performances I've ever heard. Fans of Scott Walker's more abrasive vocal gymnastics will feel right at home here, but the squeamish need not apply. I'm still unsure as to whether it's a work of near-genius or one of the worst things I've ever heard, but it is certain to elicit an extremely strong reaction one way or the other. Guerssen have just released a vinyl reissue for those who wish to add it to their 'Incredibly Strange Music' collection.
Next up is a new release from Active Listener contributor Grey Malkin, with a collaborative effort between the Hare & The Moon, and dark French neo-folk songwriter Kentin Jivek. "The Haunted Cabaret" sounds every bit like that title would lead you to believe, starting out with a spooked carnival instrumental before Jivek's moody vocals take centre stage. Hare & The Moon fans might be a little surprised by what they hear here. There's little in the way of neo-folk to be found, but those with a penchant for undead cabaret will certainly enjoy this. Keep an eye on their facebook pages (linked above) for an imminent release.
"Waves" has just been released and it certainly doesn't sound like the work of just one man, unless that man were to have a few extra pairs of arms. It's trippy, electronic based psychedelia with insistent Krauty rhythms that allow him to open his third eye and explore uncharted realms in a face melting fashion which also manage to incorporate extremely catchy OMD style electro-pop. Try this on for size.
Also new on Trouble in Mind is the self titled album from Ultimate Painting. Made up of Jack Cooper of Mazes & James Hoare of Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting kick off their debut with a self titled track (remember when bands used to do that?) which does the Velvet Underground's "Loaded" better than the Velvet Underground did. It's a master class of spontaneous sounding vintage indie guitar pop from there with flashes of Television and Flying Nun, extremely likeable songs, and hints of an excellent record collection. Pretty great. As evidenced below.
11 Dec 2014
Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill "Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening"
For those looking for something festive to listen to over your holiday season, our pastoral folkadelic friends Angeline Morrison and The Rowan Amber Mill have just released "Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening".
It's a six song Christmas collection (with four bonus tracks on the CD version), which can be purchased or streamed through the Bandcamp widget below:
"Silent Night Songs for a Cold Winter's Evening is the result of collaboration between West Country woodland folksters The Rowan Amber Mill and Cornish singer / songwriter/ producer Angeline Morrison (Freestyle Records, The Mighty Sceptres, The Ambassadors of Sorrow) . It's a six track ep and our attempt, in song, to capture the spirit of a woodland idyll placed in a winter landscape, infused by song. We think it’s pastoral folk, but we are never too sure on technical terms. The album combines arrangements of traditional carols, and wassail, alongside newly-penned songs. It's a fair bit less dark than our recent work - the pastoral evocation won out this time."
Album Review: My Drunken Haze "My Drunken Haze"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
I first became aware of Athens based quintet My Drunken Haze by sharing a mutual obsession for the music of Broadcast with MDH guitarist Spir Frelini. Their debut E.P "Pleasing Illusions" (great as it was) was very much in thrall to this influence, but this debut full length is a much more wide ranging and sprawling affair. Fully assimilating, rather than shrugging off their influences, it's fitting that this release is self titled as it represents the first time that they sound fully confident in their own identity, making this something of a definitive statement.
It's a concept album of sorts, a coming of age story about a woman ‘in search of love, longing, separation and redemption, (set) against a backdrop of daydreaming, drugs and the hot sand of a summer beach.’ Matina Sous Peau provides this character's voice, and her pipes sound even better than they did on the "Pleasing Illusions" E.P, conjuring up a hazy, dream-pop vibe that more often than not takes centre stage. This, in itself, is an impressive feat, because her bandmates are pulling some pretty attention-grabbing moves of their own. There are still plentiful hints of that Broadcast vibe, but the band here stretch out into areas that get downright proggy in places, as well as instrumental parts that bring to mind the retro-indie of the War on Drugs and Real Estate, and more esoteric sections that recall The United States of America. And they do this while ensuring that each song has at least one inescapable hook - and often many more.
After a slow start, things build up a really great head of steam by the third track "Yellow Balloon", never dropping the ball from that point onwards. The band seem to realize that this is a strong starting point too, as their Bandcamp stream starts at this point, rather than the beginning. The concept album approach is given just the right weighting too. If you want to follow the storyline it's there, but it never dominates. It's an album that works superbly as a singular entity, but functions excellently on a track by track basis as well.
A very strong dream-pop / psychedelic pop release that manages to pull a bunch of vintage strings, without losing the contemporary edge that will make it appeal to a modern alternative audience.
LP with free CD, digital download, and full stream available here.
10 Dec 2014
Album Review: Espectrostatic "Escape From Witchtropolis"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Synthwave artist Espectrostatic (aka Texan Alex Cuervo) describes his intent with new long player, the superbly named 'Escape From Witchtropolis', as 'wanting to do a spooky TV show theme, but with a propulsive motorik beat'. A fine ambition indeed. Also a member of Hex Dispensers, Cuervo has several superbly wrought electronica releases in his back catalogue which are clearly a labour of love; highly detailed and carefully crafted, they are both homage to the vintage electronic soundtracks of horror maestro John Carpenter and unique, Blade Runner-esque glimpses into a frightening and fearful future.
Opener 'Removing The Bandages' is a haunted electronic intro to the album, the ghosts of the past flitting past the protagonist’s eyes with a haze of reverberated electricity. It leads directly into the propulsive, and yes motorik beat of the title track, banks of keyboards and shimmering electronic percussion creating a driven and tension filled main theme. Reminiscent of Chrome at their sci-fi, dystopian finest, the dread filled synths and new wave bassline provides a truly thrilling ride through the smog blackened city. 'The Feral Kids', with its ‘Foetus’ style big band rhythms and bass note piano motif, is a sinister, Ballardian traverse through some especially shadowy streets, the synthesised sound of engines howling across the landscape. 'This Is A War Universe' is a piano led, John Carpenter-esque epic (think 'Escape From New York' as the most immediate influence); electronic drum breakdowns echoing behind the stately melody and whistling harmonies. Cuervo is no amateur; these songs are carefully crafted vistas of sound with expertly handled atmospherics. Vintage whirls, hums and keyboard patches hover as the track builds to a crescendo.
'The Obelisk' is more muted, more spectral; analogue synths and harpsichord merging with some monolithic keyboard stabs and riffs before returning to the electric wasteland once more. It's a towering moment, hugely evocative and perhaps hauntological in a different sense from that which we are aware of in the UK. British hauntology often reflects a unique form of media nostalgia such as 1970s BBC children's TV shows or the sense of dystopia that can be found in archived public service broadcasting safety adverts such as 'Deep Water'. Perhaps the US have their own specific hauntological or psychogeographical past to draw upon; John Carpenter, the aforementioned 'Escape From New York', the new wave of the late 70s, The Velvet Underground, Carnival of Souls and similar B-movies, perhaps the trash and glitter of cable TV. Maybe these artefacts are the blood in the veins of this music.
'She Hunts Them In The Afterlife' robotic coldness and pumping bassline suggests the America of Carpenter’s 'They Live', a blighted landscape of paranoia and broken dreams. 'Sinking Into The Microverse' is a dread filled creep through dangerous and darkened alleys, Brad Fiedel's infamous and hugely influential soundtrack for the original Terminator movie expertly evoked here. 'The Cold Spot's spooked xylophones and epic waves of keyboards are a moment of breath in the tension, a reprieve from the urgency as is 'Abandoned Places' which shimmers into view, a widescreen dawn that suggests a post-apocalyptic cityscape. Filled with melancholy and regret, this is hugely evocative moment and screams out for something celluloid to accompany. 'Transmogrifier's sinister hum and electronic howl winds through the estates and buildings of Witchtropolis, filling the avenues and alleyways with analogue dread. A synthesised choir join the coda, a stately procession for the dead. 'The Goddamn Apocalypse' ends the album, decayed piano and backwards reverb building to a heart wrenching finale amongst the solar wind.
A hugely inventive and descriptive recording, a soundtrack for an imaginary film and just a very fine piece of vintage electronica, 'Escape From Witchtropolis' is a successful listen however you approach it. You may wish to escape from but you will most probably want to re-enter at some point shortly after to experience the adrenaline and rush of this unique album once again.
9 Dec 2014
Gig Review: Nick Cave Dec. 9, St James Theatre, Wellington, NZ
Reviewed by Nathan Ford, iPhone photo by Lotus Hattersley.
Last night's show (Nick's second of two in this venue, following one on the previous night) was pretty much picture perfect. Billed as a Nick Cave solo show, Nick was never actually on stage alone. Four key Bad Seeds accompanied him on most songs; Warren Ellis, Thomas Wydler, Martyn P. Casey, and Barry Adamson, with the spotlight shining on Nick alone for the occasional solo piano track performance.
I've seen Nick before with a much larger Bad Seeds ensemble and in comparison this stripped back approach really allows the songs to breathe, highlighting the intensity of Nick's vocal performance. And that vocal performance was fantastic; I can't imagine that he's ever sounded better. Unlike the majority of his peers, Nick's vocals are getting better and better with every passing year, aiding him in picking out subtle nuances that allow new arrangements of classic material like "The Weeping Song" to shine. Whether roaming the stage like a serpentine preacher, or perched at the piano, every second of this performance saw him consumed by the quiet intensity of his songs, which made his warm and appreciative between song banter even more surprising.
And despite the solo billing, Cave's conspirators were much more than just a faceless supporting cast. Warren Ellis remained seated throughout, in stark contrast to the barely restrained energy of his performance on a myriad of different instruments. Thomas Wydler's work behind the kit was exceptional, whether subtly caressing the cymbals with his brushes, or providing a fluent barrage of snare and crashes - particularly effective on "From Her To Eternity" which has never sounded tighter than here. And Martyn P. Casey and Barry Adamson's work on bass and keys respectively provided that dangerous, slinky groove which is the key component to the Bad Seeds sound.
Excellent selection of material too. Plenty of early stuff with "Jack the Ripper" and "Up Jumped the Devil" bringing the house down, as well as a smattering of 'hits' - notably a rousing "Red Right Hand". But it was the slowburning "Push The Sky Away" which provided the most riveting diversions; "Higgs Boson Blues" built to nearly unbearable levels of intensity, while Ellis exploded into life with a life affirming noise solo to help the crescendo of "Mermaids" reach it's apex. And "Push The Sky Away" itself closed the show out - the fifth encore - with it's brooding keys striking a perfect balance between introspection and the hint of menace.
We Real Cool
The Weeping Song
Red Right Hand
Higgs Boson Blues
The Ship Song
From Her to Eternity
I Let Love In
Up Jumped the Devil
Lay Me Low
The Mercy Seat
We No Who U R
People Ain't No Good
Jack the Ripper
Push the Sky Away
Album Review: Andy Wade "Pushing Senses"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
What runs through the blood of the Wade family? Judging by this debut effort from Andy Wade (brother of Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade) it is some mysterious psychedelic musical elixir. The two brothers released a splendid joint album, 'Rexford Bedlo' (reviewed elsewhere on these pages) earlier this year and, in not dissimilar fashion to his brother's Dodson's output, Andy proves equally prolific in following this up only months later with 'Pushing Senses'.
From the outset Wade's strong melodic sense is evident, 'So Far Away’ s strident riffs and dynamics recalling Steven Wilson's solo work in its merging of coruscating guitar, organ and tricky time signatures. It is an impressive opener and one that will appeal to fans of both Dodson and a bluesier, harder rocking sound. He then throws us sideways with an absolutely beautiful slice of folk melancholy with 'Something More', mandolin and finger picked guitar evoking the troubled spirit of John Martyn. 'Farewell My Love' continues at the folkier end of the spectrum, albeit before twisting into a more Kinksian or classic English psychedelic rock with a hint of Elvis Costello. Effortlessly melodic and memorable this is finely crafted material, Wade has obviously honed and crafted these songs, carefully accentuating the hooks and highlighting the harmonic resonance that fills this record. 'Home Is Where You Are' is nothing if not a classic pop song, Wades' emotive vocals carrying the song forward on a simple percussive acoustic beat. Make no mistake though; this is not standard rock fare. A backwards guitar solo entirely unexpectedly enters the song before it returns to its central melody. Indeed these dark shadows and quirks appear throughout the album, meaning the music herein strikes a note on one hand of being a psych masterpiece in the vein of Ray Davies work, whilst on the other hand these unexpected features accentuate Wade's singular, unique muse. Indeed, there are obtuse corners and curious and liberally sprinkled surprise moments throughout. 'Cold Winter' for example, is a plaintive and affecting piece of acoustic balladry but it is also welded, winningly, to an almost gothic (in the sense of The Cult and The Mission) bassline and flanged guitar. 'Falling For You' is a heartfelt full on psych monster whilst 'I Don't Know' is a piano led Warren Zevon-esque philosophical paean to humankind, with some truly incredible bursts of dark psyche guitar. 'Take My Hand' is a garage stomp of fuzz and lo-fi punk attitude and is truly exhilarating whilst 'Helpless Love', with its descending bassline is a 'Sunday Afternoon' for modern times, downbeat yet eminently catchy in its acidic jangle.
There is also a considerable emotional range on this album, Wade has created something here that is both mature and yet life affirming; there is heartache here but this pain is also life affirming. Fans of Bob Mould's later work in Husker Du and The American Music Club will find much to love here, indeed 'Something Beautiful' could be an outtake from 'Candy Apple Grey'. And there is darkness; 'Take Me Away' is a gentle twilit acoustic slow burner, while 'Walking on the Wrong Side of Every Street' is a tortured organ and piano led lament. 'Outta My Head' is an effective howl into the storm, a plea for peace of mind whilst follower 'Watching You From Afar' is a veritable mountain of a song, explosive drums and guitar feedback enveloping Wade’s voice, his vocals carrying the melody through the maelstrom. 'Lead You On' is a delicate psych pop nugget before closer 'Last Call' s choppy guitar and harmonised vocals build and layer towards a breathtaking climatic finish.
And here's the remarkable coda to this album’s story; Wade plays every instrument, produces, arranges and every song is his. It is entirely one man's vision, tracks written over a period of years to then combine together to form this, his magnum opus. This is also a very genuine record; honesty bleeds from every vocal line, every wrung out guitar note and this sense of truth only endears the music to the listener more. Between the Wade brothers English psych is in safe hands. Give your senses a push - give them a treat - with this fine album.
Listen to "Pushing Senses" on Spotify.
5 Dec 2014
Album Review: "Kollektion 2: Roedelius: Electronic Music" Selected by Lloyd Cole
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
As someone with only a passing awareness of Lloyd Cole's music, I must confess that I'm surprised to hear that he's a rampant synthesizer fancier, and a big fan in particular of the music of Cluster's Hans-Joachim Roedelius (with whom he collaborated on the album "Selected Studies Vol. 1" in 2013). I'm told that Cole also released an excellent electronic album in 2001 called "Plastic Wood" which makes this influence even more explicit.
Bureau B have taken advantage of this obsession and commissioned Cole to select and sequence this immaculate selection of Roedelius's vintage synthesizer music, following up on Tim Gane's excellent Sky Records multi-artist selection from several months ago. It's one of two releases from Bureau B to recognize and celebrate Roedelius' 80th birthday (the other, which I haven't heard, is "Tape Archive 1973-1978"). "Electronic Music" (as this release is known) is pretty great.
Cole credits Roedelius with the melodic sensibility and warmth that made Cluster's music more attainable than a number of their peers, and those qualities are further evidenced by the solo selections chosen here by Cole, who had extensive access to Roedelius' solo archives during the selection process.
It sounds like pretty groundbreaking stuff, even now, with the envelope-pushing likes of Boards of Canada mining similar territory now that evokes wistful and slightly musty nostalgia in the best possible ways. And like all exceptional compilations, it paints an accurate and complete portrait of the artist concerned in a self contained fashion that makes it an ideal representation for those who feel they only need one disc of this stuff, or an excellent starting point for those (like myself) for whom it has instilled a hunger to investigate further.
Essential proto-electronic / kosmische. Hats off to Mr Cole for spreading the word.
Available on CD, and vinyl.
4 Dec 2014
Album Review: Monta At Odds "Robots of Munich"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Brothers Dedric and Delaney Moore are fully entrenched in the Kansas City psychedelic scene - they're even involved in the organisation of the KC Psych Fest. With that in mind, you'd perhaps expect their music to tread a fairly traditional psychedelic path, but the latest release from their band Monta At Odds is anything but traditional.
A concept album based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (the basis for Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner"), "Robots of Munich" is an extremely progressive release. It's very much made in a way that celebrates the essence of psychedelia, without being pinned down into any of the sub-genres that can limit the adventurous approach of that mindset.
Interestingly, the Moore Brothers have another, more synth-orientated band (Gemini Revolution), and their latest release "Synthesize" wears its influence of Vangelis' "Blade Runner" soundtrack very openly on its sleeve, but this more closely related piece of music only touches very briefly on that influence.
"Robots of Munich" certainly does feature Delaney's synthesizer's extensively, but the rhythm section are equally important here, providing a tight, and often quite funky bedrock for the synthesizer's frequent trips into headier territory. Stripped of those synths, some of these tunes could pass for early LCD Soundsystem works. And the cross-genre pollination rears its head again and again here, with the impression being that the band member's wide ranging listening activities have naturally led to this, rather than it being a conscious decision on anyone's part.
This approach makes "Robots of Munich" a unique album, where comparisons can only reveal a small part of the story. Is it psychedelia? Art-pop? Old school electronica? It's all of these things and more, instilled with the adventurous spirit of Bowie's Berlin trilogy, the explorative thrust of early seventies Miles Davis, and the world conquering pop smarts of early eighties Talking Heads.
And you can sample a track from it below, although it's best consumed in its entirety.
Album Review: Violet Woods "S/T"
Reviewed by Kent Whirlow
November saw the debut full-length release from Cambridge, UK's Violet Woods. And what a lovely release it is. "Electric Fascination" starts off with a rather ominous keyboard followed by a mysterious twelve-string guitar that slowly spins a musical web around the listener. The vocals are nice - just the right amount of reverb is present to create a beautiful sound without ever going overboard. The song begins to build with some fine guitar playing augmented by just the right tempo from the rhythm section. "Over the Ground" contains some really nice psychedelic flourishes - again, splendid guitar playing with that lovely keyboard bubbling under. By the time the track ends, we have been treated to a fairly intense workout.
Certain sixties influences are very prevalent here along with a little bit of Paisley Underground - but this record still manages to deliver a contemporary and fresh sound. "Here" has a pleasant West-coast feel to it. We are treated to some pretty intricate guitar playing and the backing vocals really are quite pleasant. There's a strange bit of a Deja Vu feeling that I get while listening to this album; I feel as though I already know it - however, that is not to suggest that it is too derivative of its influences - everything is sort of just in the right place; the arrangements work - and they work well.
"The Dancer" is the shortest track on the record and almost feels as though it is a lost classic plucked from the vaults of the sixties. It starts off with a very Byrdsy beginning (always a great thing) and progresses until, quite unexpectedly, the whole band really cuts loose and engages in a full-scale, surprisingly heavy psychedelic freak out.
"Take Your Time" is perhaps the most unassuming track, though no less enjoyable than the others. It really gives the band the opportunity to stretch out a bit. "What I Need" is fantastic; how can they possibly miss with this opening line: "Strolling through the streets of gentrification, wrapped up in a calico coat"? This really reminds me of some of the finest moments of the 80's - that great vibe as much as, if not more than, the music itself. The interplay between the guitar and the keyboards really works and things ultimately swirl into a very pleasant piece.
"Raw Love" was also a single from 2012 and a very nice pop-sike track that will transport you to a happier place. "Driftwood Royalty" probably sticks in my mind more than any other track; it really reminds me of Felt, which is surely a terrific thing.
"The River" is a fitting song to close out the album. The driving drumbeat, the haunting keyboard, subtle yet very effective backing vocals and furious guitar really seem to coalesce into a singular statement from a very promising band. This is an impressive debut, to be certain.
Vinyl, CD and digital all available here:
3 Dec 2014
Album Review: Simon Magus & The Holy See "Children of Bow Abbey"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
‘The Children of Bow Abbey’, a little remembered or seen 1970’s children's TV programme, has since fallen into notoriety due to its absolutely terrifying nature and potted history. The show was deemed far too unsettling for children and moved to a late night TV slot after only one episode was screened. For those that recall seeing this one traumatic late afternoon TV experience or for those who stayed up or snuck downstairs to follow the disturbing action unfold, Simon Magus and The Holy See's soundtrack will undoubtedly play a major part of their memories. And what music it is, a veritable suite of ghostly electronics and creeped out composition. Once again we have the artistic hub of Villa 9 to thank for uncovering this musical relic from true obscurity. And thankful we should be as, short of the theme for 'Children of The Stones' or perhaps 'Chocky', there is little in the way of classic 70s paganesque kid’s TV that has a soundtrack as eerily unsettling as this one. A generation of night terrors were truly born with the watching of at least one episode of this misjudged but ground-breaking curio and hearing its accompanying musical backing.
The soundtrack begins with Villa 9 production logo tone, a sure sign that what we are about to hear is of the highest quality. 'The Children Of Bow Abbey' follows with a spooked out mirage of birdsong, a disembodied and reverbed child's voice intoning 'Ring A Ring A Roses' and the most creeped out yet stately harpsichord you will ever hear. Echoes of John Carpenter’s score for 'The Fog' abound and we are left questioning; what was music of this quality and resonance doing in a children's TV programme? Haunted harmonies criss-cross and interweave, expertly evoking a nightmarish nostalgia. The track ends with the laughter and playing of children and one long ominous analogue hum, a terrifying conclusion. 'The Dark and Lonely Place', with its solitary and ghostly clarinet and descending vintage synths, should really have been the backing for the creepiest of adult dramas or European arthouse thrillers. What was in the water in the 70s and early 80s that provoked such superb but unsettling children's TV shows? 'The Owl Service', 'Children of the Stones', Noah's Ark', 'Sky’, ‘The Changes' and 'Bow Abbey' itself...all either deeply heathen or apocalyptic.
'Departures' is an overture of loss and disturbance, an electric sonata dedicated to something...unhuman. 'Footprints in the Cellar' in turn is a church organ led perfectly pitched package of dread. These pieces would not be out of place at all in a Giallo or Argento film, nor any by the afore mentioned John Carpenter, for these are serious, crafted compositions. It does seem as though gifted composers channelled their talents where they able to back in these dark twentieth century days; and if it was children's TV, so be it. Witness for example Ken Freeman’s 'The Tripods' theme, a veritable electronic symphony, or Paddy Kingsland’s opening title music for ‘The Changes'; both eminent pieces of electronica. 'Bow Abbey' is very much of this standard and in this linage. It's is a hugely haunting affair, the motifs and atmospheres are left with you long after the music has ceased, taking up a hellish hiding place in your head and refusing to be cast out. 'The Child Outside The Window' (that very title evoking terrifying memories of the infamous scene in the TV adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot’) is a mix of backwards kid's voices that segues into 'Museum Of Mannequins', a montage of vintage keyboard squelches and glistening glockenspiel (which, curiously, seems to have been the 'go to' sound of the 'unexplained' during the 70s). This descends into echoing giggles and laughter and the sound of numerous music boxes playing at once, a sound that will undoubtedly haunt your dreams for days and nights after hearing. 'Behind The Attic Door' s whispered voices and reverberated piano notes hint at what is lurking there (don't go in!) whilst 'A Delicate Melody' is just that, a perfect piece of analogue that Tangerine Dream themselves would be proud of. Beautiful in its night time shimmer and subtly plucked notes this track (and indeed the soundtrack as a whole) stands on its own as a hugely successful and crucial work of vintage electronica.
'The Playroom' s backwards tapes and unnerving banging suggest somewhere you would never want to enter far less play, it is truly masterful in creating an air of absolute fear. 'The Midnight Music Box' replays the central motif with some gorgeous vintage synth sounds; any fan of hauntological acts such as Belbury Poly, Concretism or The Advisory Service will find much to love here. 'The Shadow of the Mistress' is a deeply evocative fugue, electronic strings (again evoking the closing theme of John Carpenter's soundtrack for ‘The Fog’) washing over a shimmering Satie-esque series of piano and glockenspiel notes. 'Trapped in the Attic' evokes just that feeling; a hollow wind and the album’s creeped out central motif again resonating as if in the darkest and deepest of caverns. Harpsichord enters before the track starts to twist, squirm and play in reverse, heightening its disturbing nature even more. 'Is Anyone Upstairs?' gives us a brooding electric requiem mass before 'Departures' reprises with its beautiful melancholy piercing the gloom. 'The Horrors in the Cellar', a cacophony of time stretched screams and wails, is not something to play in the dark, ever. It is hugely, terrifyingly effective. And then, it is over. The ‘End titles’ play, returning us to the ominous, descending notes of the Bow Abbey theme. What have we just heard or witnessed? That question must have been in the thoughts of thousands of petrified school children throughout the UK one sepia afternoon in the 70s. Listening now, many will remember the fear of watching but not all the detail, some may even recall this music and may find themselves transported back to terror upon hearing this soundtrack. Some will remember every detail and that is why, 40 years on, they still struggle to sleep soundly at night.
Whilst quite obviously deeply inappropriate as a lost children's TV soundtrack (it's far too good for a start) this is a stunning work of classic electronica, up there with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and White Noise's 'An Electric Storm'. These December nights are darkening now, the still, cold winter is just the time for reminiscence and in the silent night we might still hear the ghoulish laughter and sound of The Children of Bow Abbey. Leave the lights on, close the curtains and tell yourself this was all long ago......or was it?
Available free here.
2 Dec 2014
Dual Planet Reissues / Gemini Revolution / Thomas McConnell / Slight / Beaulieu Porch
Australian reissue / archival label Dual Planet are going from strength to strength following on from these excellent Radiophonic releases. For an idea of the sort of care that goes into their releases, think Finders Keepers - a label that they've formed a relationship with, and compare favourably to. Their latest batch of releases are a synth lovers dream. The most well-known is the self titled debut from Melbourne based band Cybotron. Originally released in 1976, original pressings routinely go for big bucks on eBay, but this lovely reissue will happily fill the gap on my shelves. Lovers of Berlin-school will already know about this album, and will presumably be reaching for their wallets as we speak. Those who enjoy their Tangerine Dream-isms with a more unpredictable tingle ala Ash-Ra Tempel should do likewise. At the more obscure end of the spectrum we have two synth laden Australian soundtrack releases. Brian May's score for the 1982 video-nasty "Turkey Shoot" is a brooding electronic beast, heavily influenced by contemporary Italian zombie / cannibal cinema. And this is the Brian May who scored "Mad Max", "Patrick" and "The Day After Halloween", not the curly haired Queen gentleman who makes guitars out of mantelpieces. Even more obscure is Andrew Thomas Wilson's score for 1980 nuclear disaster film "The Chain Reaction", another primitive electronic gem which deftly balances anxiety-inducing, Carpenter-esque drone, with driving electro-pop. I'm forever thankful that we find ourselves in a time when obscurities like this are finding their way to our ears.
And while we're talking vintage synth opuses, there's plenty of new stuff around that plays upon the classic-era sounds without descending into parody. The four pronged synthesizer creation known as Gemini Revolution are among the best for those who like their synth sounds to evoke exploding nebula, rather than creeping menaces. Their new album, "Synthesize", is full of lovely ambient moments and sweeping synth washes, juxtaposed nicely with more percussive elements, and recurring melodic motifs with surprisingly sharp hooks. These earworms make themselves known on repeated listens, providing a lure that makes "Synthesize" more than just mood music - although it fits that job description exceptionally too. Perfect for inner traveling or soundtracking that old Philip K. Dick paperback you've been meaning to revisit.
And now for something completely different; Liverpudlian Thomas McConnell has been mentioned favourably in these pages before, and I dare say he will be again. His latest single "Crocodile" sees him moving away a little from his earlier "Abbey Road" fixations into a more seventies influenced direction. There's a big dash of glam, and lashings of ornate E.L.O orchestration to be found here, with numerous hooks which are frankly irresistible (and why would you want to resist them?). It all sounds very much like it should be accompanied by a 1973 Top of the Pops performance, with large sideburns and silver trousers, and is unapologetically chipper, and marvelous. I'm smiling right now, and miserable bugger that I am, I don't do a lot of that. Check out the video here.
new double a-side single from Montreal psychedelic art poppers Slight. Their hooky numbers have a great, major-label production sheen to them, and take influence from an esoteric and varied set of sources in a way that reminds me a lot of Metronomy, Field Music and Django Django. This is music very much of that caliber also so it comes as some surprise that they're giving it away free through their Bandcamp page, rather than being plastered all over the independent music papers. Download, spread the word, and help these talented chaps find the success that their songs warrant.
Beaulieu Porch is an old favourite here at the Active Listener, and you're possibly sick of us banging on about them/him. But I'm going to anyway as My Berry keeps getting better, and better. "Golden Face" / "The Carmelita Devine" is a free download (for a limited time) as a taster for an upcoming album, and sees the Porch continuing to expand their sound. While Berry's distinctive, helium-soaked vocals are of course notably present, "Golden Face" sees a move away from "Strawberry Fields" to somewhere more gritty, but still unmistakeably infused with classic psychedelic pop. Bodes well for the coming album.
E.P Review: Mogwai "Music Industry 3 Fitness Industry 1"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
You could piece together an alternate history of Mogwai by focusing solely on their E.Ps. And that history would make them seem like a much more eclectic outfit than studying their albums alone. The Glaswegian post-rock kingpins have long used the E.P format as an outlet for experimentation, as well as a resting place for recent material that doesn't fit the mood or texture of the album sessions it was recorded during.
Which brings us to "Music Industry 3 Fitness Industry 1", a new six track E.P featuring three tracks recorded during the "Rave Tapes" sessions, and three remixes of tracks originally featured on "The Rave Tapes".
Opener and lead single "Teenage Exorcists" will definitely put the cat among the pigeons. Eschewing their normal slow-build mentality, it announces its intentions straight away, hitting full steam within the first ten to fifteen seconds. It's also in possession of perhaps the most straightforward verse/chorus/verse structure that Mogwai have dabbled in over their long history, including a big hooky chorus which suggests that they could still have a few surprises up their collective sleeve if they were to put out a more conventional, vocal-focused album.
"History Day" and "HMP Shaun William Ryder" are much less surprising. Both moody builders, it seems that these were left off of "The Rave Tapes" due to time constraints, rather than a drop in quality or difference in mood to that material.
We all know by now that Mogwai like a good remix, in all fairness, probably more than their fans do. Which means that enjoyment of these last three tracks is entirely dependent on the flexibility of the listener. Blanck Mass's remix is a little too much of a Prodigy-style banga for me to fully surrender to, but Pye Corner Audio and Nils Frahm acquit themselves particularly well. Martin Jenkins A.K.A Pye Corner Audio (who toured as an opening act for Mogwai recently) does particularly well, stripping "No Medicine For Regret" back to a ghostly, skeletal state which suggests that a full blown collaborative effort could be a particularly rewarding experience.
This is a really nice companion piece to "The Rave Tapes". I'm aware that there are a number of people out there who feel that the band have been treading water, and recycling ideas of late. While I'd posit that those listeners haven't really been paying attention, a quick listen to this may be all that's required to get them to start a process of reevaluation.
Available on CD, and 12" vinyl E.P.
1 Dec 2014
Album Review: Amenità "Rêverie"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Amenità (the alias of composer vocalist Marie Gold) has been working her dark magic around the fringes of electronica for the last few years, casting musical spells that might fall under the of genre of witchhouse (her label Phantasmadisques favoured genre) but are also equal parts hauntology and glistening 4AD styled purple psychedelic pop in the vein of mid 80s Siouxsie And The Banshees and the spectral This Mortal Coil.
Album opener 'Partita Lacrimosa' is a midnight black analogue hum of whispered vocals and twinkling black cascades of chimes and bells, synthetic howls gradually devouring the track leaving only the wind and a spiralling guitar line. This is the Banshees' 'Kiss in the Dreamhouse' meets the haunted electronic church choir of experimental acts such as Joseph Curwen or Coil. 'The Quiet Death's percussive tolling evokes an almost processionary rhythm, giving the track a ritualistic and dread filled air. This is soundtrack music for nightmares and night terrors, yet it is also curiously beautiful and utterly bewitching. Gold's vocals end the track as electronic slabs of doom and harpy howls echo and fade around her. ‘Rêverie’ is a gothic hymnal; layered vocals waterfall over plucked strings and distorted synths; think Miranda Sex garden meets Time Machines era Coil. Yet this music remains utterly original, it is Gold’s own distinct vision. 'Lover's Grief' is a wintery lament, ice cold and ghostlike in its reverberated slabs of keyboard menace and folk balladry. Fans of Chris and Cosey, X-TG and Dead Can Dance will find much to love here. This is not easy music, but it has no pretence to be. Instead this is a layered, textured and finely composed electronic choral symphony. It disturbs, it delights and it confounds; there are plentiful dark corners and shadows for sounds to emerge and take refuge in. Yet it is never anything other than enchanting; this music has a cold, doomed beauty of its own and is fairytale like in its unfolding atmosphere and otherworldliness. 'Hauntingly Beautiful' is indeed just that; pristine waves of Marie's vocals lapping across an electronic tideline, evocative and magical in its wraith like charm. 'Invoking Kali' is a chanted, backward loop, an unsettling choral piece. Yet this too becomes something hypnotic, entrancing and alluring. 'Distorted Memory' opens with a fractured musical box, echoes of something monstrous interrupting its off kilter chimes. Gold's harmonies enter as the music box wildly loops; a haunted house of a song. ‘Amaterasu' is a shimmering, silvery slice of analogue feedback and priestess like vocals, an incantation to the night. A single, repeated bell wanders through the darkness, the chant receding. It is breathtaking, an utterly chilling and gorgeous moment. A remix of ‘Rêverie’ ends the album displaying in its new form quite a different song indeed, a sonic cathedral made of Gold's voice, backwards loops and electronic glitches.
Truly unique and quite unlike anything else you will hear, Amenità has created a dark kaleidoscopic treasure of an album. Uneasy listening perhaps but also essential, this album takes experimental electronica into an entirely different realm, one of fairy tales and folklore. This is moon music, just right for these black, winter evenings.
30 Nov 2014
Album Review "Native North America (Vol. 1) Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Just when you think that reissue culture has reached saturation point, something like this comes along to prove that there are still fantastic treasures to be unearthed which have been heard by very, very few.
Canadian musicologist Kevin "Sipreano" Howes had been collecting the excruciatingly rare music of North America's Aboriginal people for fifteen years already when he was given the green light to curate this collection by Light in the Attic, who - let's be frank - know a good thing when they see it.
Subtitled "Aboriginal Folk, Rock & Country 1966-1985", this collection collects rare material from a range of North America's best indigenous songwriters, which was largely ignored by the mainstream press at its time of release.
Howes hit the road to track down as many of these performers as he could to try and trace their history for the 120 page hardcover book which houses these two discs, and is certainly as historically significant as the music contained within. Very few of these artists had any form of previously documented history, so Howes spent hours on the phone conducting interviews, and traveled extensively to remote areas, in the hopes of tracing the owners of names that he'd discovered on dusty private pressings and in the contents of public and private libraries.
The results of his labours are impressive indeed. The majority of these artists received very little support at the time their recordings were made, and no media coverage to speak of. Opportunities to record were scarce, but what did find its way onto tape is pretty great. Certainly a lot of it is filtered through a spectrum of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and the likes, but the songs themselves are often extremely personal and individualistic; Willie Dunn's "I Pity the Country" is anthemic protest which should have reached more ears at the time. Brian Davey's "Dreams of Ways" is devastating and wonderful. Lloyd Cheechoo's two offerings sound curiously like the Felice Brothers. And nestled amongst the predominantly folky and country rock arrangements are garage pop gems like Sugluk's "I Didn't Know", and best of all, The Chieftones, whose "I Shouldn't Have Did What I Done" mixes tribal, Hank Marvin atmosphere, with moody garage-folk and an instant earworm chorus.
Even better news is that the "Volume 1" addendum to the title isn't speculative, with Howes currently at work on a similar collection which will cover the lower 48 States, and further volumes covering North America planned. It'll be hard to imagine them beating this though, a definitive statement, and one with a wide reaching appeal.
Double CD set with hardcover book, available here.
Vinyl version available here.
Check out the excellent trailer here:
28 Nov 2014
Album Review: Emily Jones "Autumn Eye"
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Emily Jones should need no introduction to those who take notice of the current crop of wyrd folk artists casting their own distinctive shadows over these Isles. Her collaboration with the splendid Rowan Amber Mill 'The Book of the Lost', a paean and perfect evocation of 1970s folk horror TV and film, was a firm favourite of this listener (and was in my Active Listener Top Ten of 2013). The daughter of folk legend Al Jones, Emily has been casting her spell-like songs around the more haunted corners of the web for a number of years and was most recently seen featuring on the excellent ‘Songs from the Black Meadow’ compilation whilst also performing at that album’s launch. Indeed, her muse fits perfectly with this particular surrounding, a collection filled with both dark, rural folk and hauntological electronica; genres which Jones embraces but does so in her own unique and enchanting manner.
It is from the ‘Songs from the Black Meadow’ album that opener 'Dark Moss and Coldheart' is taken, a gothic folk lament of ghostly harmonies and flanged guitar that is equally chilling and utterly beautiful. There is darkness at heart here, a fairy tale that may not necessarily have a happy ending, yet the song is both truly beguiling and bewitching. It is a hugely impressive opener and, when the guitar and keyboards appear in choral unison, it is a hair on the back of the neck moment. ‘Bed of Mud' is a baroque, piano and harpsichord led folk song in the style of Trees 'The Garden of Jane Delawney', Emily’s' vocals easily fitting into a canon that contains that band’s Celia Humphris, Mellow Candle's Alison O'Donnell and Steeleye's Maddy Prior. This is intricate, delicate and evocative chamber music that brings to mind the more pagan and spooked side of 1970s and 80s TV programming such as ‘Moon Stallion’ or ‘The Owl Service’, as well as the gothically tinged Victoriana of the Czech new wave classics ‘Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders’ or ‘Morgiana’. 'Hermegant and Madaline' is a fine piece of musical witchcraft, an acoustic led, dark acid folk masterpiece. Shades and echoes of 70’s prog folk act Renaissance and perhaps also the subtle orchestral stylings of troubadour Duncan Browne filter through the layered harmonies of the chorus, evoking a timeless quality and atmosphere.
Indeed, there is something sepia tinged about the music contained herein, it is from another time (or perhaps exists outside of time). It has a curiously English melancholy and haunted soul quite out of step with the modern world and pleasingly so; this album is an escape, a portal into a Cornish landscape that contains folklore, doomed and dark romance and a genuine sense of wonder. It is a delight that music of this type and calibre is being released today quite removed and distinct from the mass produced and homogeneous world of Spotify or iTunes. Indeed the very nature of this recording, encased in a lovingly handmade sleeve adorned with a single leaf and containing a hand printed disc enveloped in golden paper, is a defiant and gorgeous dedication to a rustic and truly creative DIY ethic.
‘Light Appearing's picked guitar and yearning keyboard passages are golden, sunset sounds, evoking hazy memories of years long gone by. 'Pieces Of people' is a wistful, harmonium woven ballad, an autumnal melancholic air permeating its gentle waltz. 'Tethered' too has shades of early winter's fading light in its glistening twilit shimmer, chilly piano cascading through the warmth of Jones' vocals. Not unlike a folksier version of some of the more reflective tracks such as ‘Wintertime Love' from The Door's psych masterpiece ‘Waiting for the Sun’, these are lovely, finely crafted symphonies filled with an enticing nostalgia. 'Bright Shadows' completes the album in properly haunting fashion, Emily's echoed vocals gracefully and gradually merging with the spectral string section in one of the album’s many outstandingly beautiful moments.
This is a very special album indeed. Timeless and strange, it stands as a testament to Emily's singular artistic vision and her dark yet bewitching song craft; she is truly one of this island’s hidden folk treasures, waiting to be found. Take my word for it, you need this album but it is limited so do not hesitate; take a look through an Autumn Eye.
CD & Download available via the Bandcamp widget below or here.
27 Nov 2014
Album Review: Odessey & Oracle "& The Casiotone Orchestra"
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
There's been a surprising, but noticeable resurgence in baroque pop lately. I find it strangely comforting in this day of i-phones and IDM, that there are an increasing number of young folk reaching for oboes and harpsichords to decorate their tunes. One such group of young folks is the Lyon based trio of Fanny L'Heritier, Alice Baudoin, and Guillaume Medioni, trading under the name of Odessey & Oracle.
You could be forgiven for assuming a case of influence being worn on one's sleeve. The truth of the matter however, is that while the Zombies and other sixties baroque-poppers have provided some noticeable inspiration here, Odessey & Oracle are inspired by the freedom that the late sixties represented, and rather than being restricted by revivalism, have appropriated and updated that sense of daring spirit. This allows for a wider range of influences which include artists as diverse as Bach, the Dirty Projectors , Brian Wilson , White Noise , Moondog and Robert Wyatt. Recorded with the help of a dozen musical accomplices (the titular Casiotone Orchestra), the results are an impressively, and often exhaustingly, varied selection of songs which will likely leave your head reeling. One moment it's a gorgeous piece of baroque pop balladry, then it's chamber strings, and a moment later, electro-pop.
This restless approach does require a few listens to allow the listener to adjust to its scope, but ensures that surprises continue to present themselves at an alarming and seemingly never-ending rate.
Not one for those looking for baroque pop in the strictly traditional, retro sense then, but the adventurous listener with an ear for the ornate will find this contemporary update to be both rewarding and surprising.
Hear a five track sampler here:
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