27 Feb 2014

Schnauser "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Prog-pop. There's two words that you don't hear together very often anymore, and two words that probably conjure unwelcome memories of monstrosities like this. Fortunately we have the wonderful Schnauser on hand to provide an alternative definition that doesn't involve dinosaurs struggling for continued relevance. It's quite an achievement to weave these two seemingly contradictory strands together, but as we saw last on year on their excellent full length "Where Business Meets Fashion", Schnauser are more than up to the task.
Now they've attracted the attentions of Fruits de Mer Records, and are back with a 7" single with two interpretations of classic prog pieces from the early years of the genre, before it began to put on weight and sweat uncomfortably. Before it was all about the seventeen minute organ solos, prog bands were finding an exciting balance between memorable songs and instrumental virtuosity which almost defines the Schnauser sound, and their choices here make a lot of sense to the evolution of their sound.
The first couple of albums from Yes (with Peter Banks on guitar rather than Steve Howe), have often been regarded as the runts of that particular litter, but have always appealed to me more than their later, more ambitious efforts. "Astral Traveller" is a great example of what those early albums offer, and Schnauser's take tickles my fancy perhaps just a little more than the original (which I'm also rather partial to), with the propulsive guitar and sinuous organ combining memorably, while the vocals easily soar to the heights attained by Jon Anderson in the original.
The flipside spends a little time with the Soft Machine's "As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still", giving it an unmistakeable Schnauser twist which like "Astral Traveller", accentuates the melodic content of the original without sacrificing any of the quirky instrumental flourishes needed to keep this peaking - particularly noteworthy is the outro which freeforms into some lovely textural space in a pleasingly mind-expanding fashion.
Limited edition 7" available here, pre-ordering is advisable as Fruits de Mer titles are notorious for being snaffled up in the blink of an eye, and this is one of their best 7" releases yet.

You can hear excerpts from both tracks here:

The Active Listener Sampler 17 Out Now!

This month's sampler is out now, featuring a selection of tracks from the best albums we've reviewed this month, as well as a few exciting new artists that you won't have read about in these pages yet, but will soon.

Thanks to Andrew McGranahan for his fantastic sleeve art. it's the first time we've worked with Andrew and we hope to see a lot more of him! View more of his work at ajmcg.com - there's heaps of it and it's amazing.

This month we have the following tracks for you - download is on a name your price basis starting at $0. Enjoy!

1. White Candles - Monolith 04:11
2. Starving Daughters - Migration Cosmics 06:05
3. New Electric Ride - Marquis De Sade 04:00
4. Bronco Bullfrog - Time Waits For Norman 03:37
5. MindFlowers - Little Prayer 03:13
6. Rob Clarke & The Wooltones - Peas 02:43
7. The Shifting Sands - All The Stars 02:58
8. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - The Colossus 03:34
9. Orange Yellow Red - The Sea 04:21
10. Saltsten Sound - Lightwaves 04:57
11. Sereialarm - Miragem 03:32
12. Pontiacs - Copper Hills (Atacama Dreaming) 06:46
13. Prana Crafter - Cells in Orbit 04:20
14. The Lammas Tide - Soldier of the Sun 03:43
15. Emily Jones - Bright Shadows 00:54
16. La Casa Di Omicidio - Pista da Ballo (En, Dancefloor) 04:42
17. Mayflower Madame - Hot Blood Shivering 05:13

Download right here:

26 Feb 2014

Cremator "Clear Air Turbulence" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Clearly Matt Thompson feels that he doesn't get enough synth action in his dayjob as bass/keys man for London based, John Carpenter inspired synth proggers Zoltan.
Given the chance to experiment on his own, "Clear Air Turbulence" is a 100% synth odyssey with none of those pesky drums, bass or anything else that may distract from the matter at hand.
Drawing on an arsenal of vintage gear (Mellotron, MiniMoog, Moog Taurus, SCI Prophet 5, SCI Pro One, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland Juno 6, Solina String Ensemble and ARP Odyssey - bet that's got you studio boffins drooling), Thompson provides a series of melodic but distinctly uneasy listening opuses here that suggest something decidedly sinister and alien is just lurking around the corner, an impression aided no doubt by the excellent cover sleeve which wouldn't look out of place adorning a particularly groovy vintage John Wyndham paperback.
While there are still hints of a Carpenter influence in the sequencer programming of the gargantuan title track, the sci-fi angle presented here is less oppressive than your average mock-horror soundtrack, and shares parallels with the work of late seventies / early eighties BBC Radiophonic Workshop wizards like Peter Howell and Roger Limb, with frequent breaks in the tense atmosphere that offer glimpses of something wondrous and revelatory, reminding us in the process that the best sci-fi is as much about the quest for the unknown as it is about creepy menaces from outer space.
Impressive stuff, and a nice change of pace from the horror synth material flooding the scene at the moment.

Available here on vinyl, or here digitally.

23 Feb 2014

"Hello Everyone - Popsike Sparks From Denmark Street 1968-70" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Cherry Red's U.K psych reissue imprint Grapefruit Records has already proven its worth recently with reissues of high-caliber and frankly essential artists like Kaleidoscope and Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, but it was the release of the three disc psychedelic / underground retrospective "Love Poetry And Revolution" that proved they also had serious crate digging chops too, an impression backed up even more by "Hello Everyone."
Compiling the best of the singles output of the small Sparks label (which this writer must confess he'd never even heard of), this is far more than the standard obscure label retrospective.
Relying heavily on the in house musicians, writers and studio wizards of their parent company Southern Music gives the material here a cohesive and identifiable sound that makes this collection fit together extremely snuggly - aided by the skills of future Alan Parsons Project member Eric Woolfson and the rhythm section of Richard Hudson and John Ford (contemporously members of Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, and future rhythm section for the Strawbs).
Also partly responsible for the distinctiveness of the sound here is an ever present wall of mellotron, which the hire company couldn't be bothered lugging up and down the steps to the basement studio, so tended to stay put and be utilized as much as possible.
But great musos and a mellotron don't add up to much if the material is sub-par, and the music that can be found here is amongst the best psychedelic pop music of the period with tracks like Val McKenna's flawless baroque pop gem "House For Sale", the Fruit Machine's moody and anthemic psych rocker "The Wall" and the Baby's proto glam/power popper "Heartbreaker" sounding like shoulda/coulda/woulda been hits - in fact there's very little on here that it's hard to imagine making significant inroads on the chart of the time, so it's surprising to learn that only the New Generation's "Smokey Blue's Away" troubled the chart compilers in any fashion at all, limping to a lowly 38 - no accounting for taste obviously.
And there are two cherries on top of this particular sweet treat; whereas almost everything else that appeared on the label was recorded in their own Denmark Street studio, Sparks label boss Bob Kingston found the money to fly to L.A and supervise the recording of Eartha Kitt's "Sentimental Eartha" album - an artistically, but not commercially successful attempt to update Eartha's image to fit in with the hepcats of the time. Judging by the two Donovan covers present here ("Wear Your Love Like Heaven" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man") it was more than worth the effort.
Compilation of the year so far, and if anything can beat it by year's end I'll be a very happy listener.

"Hello Everyone - Popsike Sparks From Denmark Street 1968-70" is available here.

21 Feb 2014

Cubs "Perpetual Light" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Ireland’s Cubs follow their fine ‘Willowfield’ EP with this sequel of sorts, containing ten brief but bewitching tracks, all ably showcasing the off kilter qualities that makes them a very special and unique proposition indeed. Although brimful with contributions from the cream of Irish wyrd folk (including Eddie Keenan of The Driftwood Manor and James Rider of United Bible Studies), Cubs carve their own knotted and carefully whittled, rustic path and make something very much of their own.
Opening with ‘Gulliver’, a spectral lament featuring the vocals of Cecilia Danell and the words of Sylvia Plath, Cubs establish an authoritative and melancholy tone from the outset. ‘Perpetual Light’ with its frantic bouzouki and sample from cult classic ‘Psychomania’ is a hazy jig off this mortal coil whilst ‘Hummingbird/ McAlindens Lament’ is a true delight; male/female vocals duet with a haunted and resigned air warning ‘you will go far, just not far enough’.‘Stonewalker’s bouzouki and distorted guitar is suggestive of some kind of pagan procession (and reminds this listener of Candidate’s fine Wicker Man tribute album ‘Nuada’). ‘The First day Of Winter’ is a beautiful and wistful frozen landscape of a song; at once otherworldly and yet achingly heartfelt. Things get increasingly dark from here on in; short yet essential segueway ‘The Blessing of Rest’ adds a ghostly and tense atmosphere ending with the eerie toll of a bell, while ‘White Owl’ describes someone whose ‘words spill blackness like a large tub of ink beneath the sky’ and ends in an echoed and repeated refrain that both chills and comforts. Indeed this is Cub’s gift; they can be both warm and familiar with their use of acoustic instrumentation and intimate vocals, yet there is something untoward going on beneath the surface that disturbs and unsettles. Whilst the album itself is a hushed yet echoed and delicate affair; still there is something quite dark and untoward going on here underneath the loveliness of the arrangements and performances, something left field and skewed. Take, for example, ‘From the Wilderness’ which has some beautiful mandolin that chimes with an almost optimistic air before the peal of a thunderstorm cuts it off suddenly and unexpectedly. ‘Taken to the Bed’ begins with wedding bells and ends with sampled dialogue recounting the plight of ghosts. It is a deeply sad and affecting song, almost ballad like and traditional in its tale of love and death.
Cubs are quietly accumulating a back catalogue that stands head to head with any of the so called new folk or weird folk around at the moment. There also must be something in the Irish water at present that is virtually creating a new wave of Celtic psychedelia, what with United Bible Studies, The Driftwood Manor, David Colohan’s Raising Holy Sparks, Áine O'Dwyer and labels Deserted Village and Rusted Rail (whose owners are central members of Cubs). Unnoticed by the mainstream music press these artists are free to create music that both feeds from traditional folk and more experimental sources, which is an absolute gift to those who are paying attention. Indeed, Cubs need your attention and you need Cubs; do not let this roughhewn black jewel pass you by.

Buy here or stream below:

20 Feb 2014

Death & Vanilla "E.P" Reissue Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Creepy Swedish space-poppers Death & Vanilla have gained a legion of fans since the original 2010 release of their debut E.P which was released on CD only and in a run of only 100, which as you can no doubt imagine are pretty hard to find now. Good news though for recent converts - there's now a vinyl reissue of that original E.P bolstered with three extra tracks that if anything, are even better than the original contents.
The original four track E.P finds a nice middle ground between Broadcast and Portishead, with tracks like "Ghosts In The Machine" accentuating the twangy, tremeloed guitar end of their sound in a fashion that will make John Barry fetishists salivate uncontrollably. "The Colour of Space" treads similar spooky ground to Portishead's "Mysterons", which is fittingly appropriate for a tune that borrows its title (well, nearly) from the works of H.P Lovecraft. If this had been released in the sixties it would have been on one of those exploitation records  "Space pop for your next seance!" or the like. Pretty great stuff.
The three additional tracks here are pretty special too. "Ascend & Descend" is an instrumental piece of space pop jazz, where the fabulous rhythm section are allowed to let rip with some lovely, loping double bass standing out amidst the spacey atmospherics. "The Dödens Vaniljsås Theme" balances melody and tension in just the right ratios to fittingly act as the band's theme tune, while closer "Between Circles" (which pre-dates the original E.P) shows that these cats had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to do from day one.
Highly recommended, and an ideal starting point for the neophyte.

Available on vinyl, or digitally here:

19 Feb 2014

Glass Vaults "Bright" E.P Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Now here's a nice discovery from my newly adopted hometown. Wellington based four piece Glass Vaults have been trickling out a series of E.Ps and singles since 2010 (all of which are available as name your price or free downloads on their Bandcamp page), but their latest E.P "Bright" is the first to find its way to my ears, and it surely won't be the last.
With a sound that draws on the more ethereal, weightless end of the shoegaze / 4AD spectrum (think This Mortal Coil) combined with the airy progressive tendencies of Sigur Rós, and just a touch of the post psychedelic soundscapes of Mercury Rev, "Bright" is a very appealing synthesis of these elements and certainly more than the sum of its influences.
The songs are fragmentary and often elusive, but enticingly sweet and inviting at the same time. They give the impression of overhearing a conversation not intended for the public, with "Calling" in particular revealing only snatches of voyeuristic dialogue between gently rolling waves of blanketed atmospherics.
Elsewhere, "Alight" combines angelic falsetto harmonies with sweetly chiming guitars in the most pleasing of fashions while the tense, percussive synth-pop of "Don't Be Shy" builds to a series of claustrophobic crescendos to demonstrate that there's more than one mood they can set.
Lovely, understated stuff.

Available on vinyl here, or as a name your price download through the link below:

18 Feb 2014

Three New Releases on Active Listener Records

We've got three new releases on the Active Listener Records digital label, with an E.P of Radiophonic Space Pop from White Candles, and two new releases in "The Active Listener Introduces" series from Sir Psych (of the Smoking Trees) and The NoMen.

Keep up to date with new Active Listener Records releases by liking the Facebook page here.

Read more on the label website here.

You can investigate the new titles below.

From: Ayrshire, West Scotland
Style: Space Rock / Psychedelic Rock / Krautrock / Post-punk
Recommended if you like: Swell Maps, Hawkwind, Neu!, Television Personalities

Read more / listen / buy here.

From: Los Angeles
Style: Psychedelic Pop (Vocal) / Psychedelic Hip-hop (Instrumental)
Recommended if you like:  DJ Shadow, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Hollies

Read more / listen / buy here.

From: Philadelphia
Style: Radiophonic Space Pop
Recommended if you like: Broadcast, Death & Vanilla, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Read more / listen / buy here.

17 Feb 2014

Prana Crafter Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From the ever dependable Reverb Worship label comes the debut album from Prana Crafter, essentially Washington Woods guitarist William Sol. Entirely performed by the man himself this is obviously a homemade labour of love though, whilst there is a roughhewn quality to proceedings, this is no lo-fi, hissy tape recorded affair. The guitars ring like bells and overlay like soft, chiming blankets of sound; the muted vocals precise and spare yet affecting. This is an album of quiet yet powerful beauty and threat.
From opener 'Opal in the Dragon’s Throat Pt.1’, Sol’s stall is set out with beautiful bursts of tranquil yet spikey peals of guitar, not unlike Ben Chasny’s Six Organs Of Admittance or a slightly more skewed Neil Young. ‘Crown of Amethyst’ introduces Sol’s vocals which add yet more colour to the bewildering array of effects and sounds coming from what appears at times to be a guitar army of sorts. Indeed ‘Prana Crafter’s Abode’ has a deceptive strum and click which unexpectedly bursts into snarls of heavily distorted and abrasive distortion, again Chasny-like in its controlled and deliberate use of power yet utterly thrilling to hear. Sol’s guitar playing is a revelation, at times one part early David Gilmour to one part Godspeed You Black Emperor, sounding not unlike a hybrid of those acts rehearsing late at night deep in the woods. ‘Hearts in Trances (For Tara)’ is spellbinding; a melodic yet ragged paean to the respective love named in the title of the song. Sol’s vocals remind this listener of fellow backwoods dwellers and psychedelicists Mercury Rev; there is a similar Rev-like dreamy and surreal quality to the way that tracks fade in and out, often disorientating yet quite lovely in their appearance and unpredictable endings. In contrast ‘The Prajna Pines’ is a dark and solitary stroll through the woods at night, ominous and teetering on the edge of breaking forth into calamitous noise. ‘To The River Of Light’ is a blues styled lament, haunted by Sol’s high pitched wail and anguished warnings; clearly the river of night is not a good place to be. Strings and the buzz of insects add to the sense of threat; if Kurt Cobain were around now he’d be covering this in ‘Nirvana Unplugged’ fashion.
‘King Of The Seven Realms’ breaks from a strummed ghostly singalong into a tabla filled, distorted monster; think ‘Don’t Cry’ from Neil Young’s ‘Freedom’ but less showy, more genuine and with a sense of foreboding and remorse. ‘Descending The Jagged Mountain’ has some superlative fuzz riffing that puts Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats to shame and easily echoes early Sabbath; however there are no clichéd blues guitar solos here, instead these are monolithic guitar runs that threaten to collapse into an explosion of noise at any given point. These runs are kept on track by Sol’s extraordinary ability to experiment yet maintain the melody inherent in each of these songs. ‘Cells in Orbit’ is the most overtly psychedelic outing on the album, bells and synthesiser swooshes build around Sol’s plaintive cry ‘I found this world was so strange…’ The album closes with ‘Opal in the Dragon’s Throat Pt2’, acid guitar weaving its melancholy path amongst feedback and fuzz.
Sol’s music is a midnight journey through till dawn on some tree lined uncharted back roads. Don’t stray from the path; you might be spooked but you’ll want to return again and again to these perfect coal black jewels of songs. That is the magic of Prana Crafter.
Available in a limited edition of 50 in a beautiful handmade sleeve featuring photography by Sol and Roger Linney from Reverb Worship.

Hear more from Prana Crafter here.

16 Feb 2014

Mindflowers Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Naming your band after my favourite Ultimate Spinach tune is a pretty good way to ensure that I'm going to pay at least passing attention to your material, and when it's as strong as this E.P from Sacramento based one-man-band Chris Billington you can bet I'm going to stick around to hear more.
With an eye catchingly colourful sleeve that sums up its psych pop contents perfectly, this is an E.P that on first listen appears to be a bit of a one trick pony, but blossoms unexpectedly with repeated listens.
Layered in reverb, this is vintage sounding psych pop straight from the garage - more like a garage band's take on "Crimson & Clover" than the more ornate baroque pop stylings that seem to be in vogue with current psych pop revivalists, and is all the better for it.
Opener "Little Prayer" is a cool piece of Tarantino beat with oddles of atmosphere and some lovely tremelo guitar work with a nice, creamy guitar tone that's still reverberating around my skull. "Daydream Sunbeam" quickly dispels the arguments of any who would point the 'retro' finger by coupling what is at heart a simple garage pop ballad with layers of tormented guitar squall at a level which would probably have J.Mascis thinking "This is a bit much". Best of all though is "Death on Television", which evokes the Beatles via Lawrence Arabia with the sort of irresistible falsetto vocals that have helped the soulful psychedelia of Unknown Mortal Orchestra find a wide audience.

Available here as a name your price download:

13 Feb 2014

Strange Milk "The Odd One Out" Review

Reviewed by Tom Sandford (Clarkophile)

‘You and High’, Strange Milk’s contribution to The Active Listener Sampler #15, stands as a reminder of the power of nuance and understatement. Its slow, deliberate pace, gentle-but-unbowed rhythm and hypnotic organ passages – like a drowsy grandchild of VU’s ‘What Goes On’ – demand one’s full attention simply because it strains credulity to think anyone would have the audacity to release it in 2013.
Comparisons with the Kingsbury Manx are inevitable, insofar as both bands often play at a deceptively relaxed tempo, with vocals that can come across as somnambulistic. But Strange Milk is more overtly psychedelic than the Manx – a good thing – and their new EP, "The Odd One Out", certainly contains the sort of woozy atmospherics that made ‘You and High’ such a treat.
The appropriately titled ‘Continuum’ is a logical extension of that approach, while ‘Leitmotiv’, the EP’s explosive 6 ½ -minute centerpiece, is a sprawling psych workout. Elsewhere, ‘Fountains’ shows the band experimenting with a jauntier tempo and an arrangement that would not sound out of place on Gene Clark’s White Light. ‘Saturnine Blues’ is probably the least satisfying track on the EP – the odd one out, if you will – if only because the main riff feels overly familiar, like sluggish ‘70’s boogie. It fails to surprise or hypnotize, in spite of a spidery solo and a ghostly backing vocal. ‘You Can Be My Lover’ is a charming, innocent little song – exactly the sort of thing you wouldn’t think Strange Milk would be able to pull off. The concluding track ‘Zebra’ cuts through the romantic haze of the previous track with a compelling, ominous riff, but at 1:39 it ends rather abruptly, well before its ideas have been fleshed out. As a result, it feels half-finished, an afterthought.
Strange Milk has the uncanny knack of sounding gentle and intense at the same time. If they can continue to reconcile that apparent paradox, as they’ve done here, then bring on the album.

Available directly from the band at wearenotstrangemilk@gmail.com

11 Feb 2014

La Casa Di Omicidio

We've got another new release on the Active Listener Records label today, and it's one for all of the giallo lovers out there:

Style: Italian Giallo Horror / Prog Rock / Soundtrack / Psychedelic

Recommended if you like: Goblin, John Carpenter, King Crimson

Not much is known about the band La Casa Di Omicidio. The two permanent members (Jeff Rose and Noah Poole) allegedly acted as house band during a short-lived series of underground Grand Guignol reenactments in Brooklyn, New York in late 2012 and early 2013. This E.P. may be the left-over soundtrack from a 1979 movie of which no existing copies are known.

Translated from the back of the EP jacket:
"La Casa Di Omicidio (1979) is the third film of the famous Italian Director Ernesto Bereni. Shiver as Fulvia returns after years away from her family heritage, only to find her parents and siblings dead! Scream as the bodies pile up! Shield your eyes as blood seeps from the screen! Can Fulvia find the killer before the killer finds her?"

"A hint of abrasive psychedelia generates the desired tone of tension and suspense. Interesting. Project to keep an eye on." - 33-45 review (www.33-45.org)

Stream or purchase here:

Orange Yellow Red "A Rose Made of Galaxies" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Is it just me, or is the recent shoegaze revival responsible for more excellent albums than the original movement? Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that the classics and cornerstones of the genre mostly date back to the late eighties and early nineties, but in terms of quality material lurking just below the surface of popular awareness, I reckon the last few years have the early nineties trumped.
A lot of it's probably down to the support and non interference of the smaller and more sympathetic labels releasing this stuff now, allowing their artists to do what they do well rather than follow the latest trends (the original shoegaze trend being particularly short-lived if you believe what the U.K press had to say about it).
The resultant albums that are hitting the airwaves now are reveling in this freedom, and more often than not could stand shoulder to shoulder with classics of the day fairly incongruously, but also sound strangely contemporary today - much more so than the majority of their forefathers.
Austin, Texas's Saint Marie Records are one of the leading new shoegaze labels using this approach, and their November release (OK, I'm a little late on this one) from U.K trio Orange Yellow Red is all the stronger because of their patience.
Causing a splash with their debut demo "All The Hopes" which was picked up and comped by Geoff Barrow's Invada Records imprint, most bands would have felt the pressure to deliver a debut full length quick smart, but Orange Yellow Red have taken their time, not hitting the studio until they felt that they had a set of songs they'd want to own themselves, and the resulting album (over four or five years later) "A Rose Made of Galaxies" is well worth the wait.
The Cocteau Twins and the Cure are the two names that are most often used to reference OYR, and the comparisons are certainly justified with a spacious, expansive sound that sits squarely at the dreampop end of the shoegaze spectrum with Emma Hayward's ethereal vocal making the Cocteau's comparison almost inevitable.
And while there are plenty of moments that sound like they're directly inspired by these two acts -"The Sea" has a brooding, minor key quality that would have fit right in on the Cure's "Pornography", while "Into Your Arms" revelatory chorus pulls at the same heartstrings that Elizabeth Fraser used to routinely pluck - OYR are much more than a tribute act, with moments like the emotive chorus of excellent bonus track "Of Yesterday" having more than enough pull of their own, and perfectly balancing the visceral and the beautiful in a fashion that only the best pop albums in any genre manage.
I could happily wait another four years for another album this good from OYR, but I'm hoping I don't have to.

You can stream a few tracks from the album, or buy digitally or on CD here:

10 Feb 2014

Pontiacs "Atacama Dreaming" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Busy Chilean psychedelic rockers Pontiacs (or should that be the Pontiacs?) create some lovely, visceral sounds on their newest album "Atacama Dreaming", combining a dreamy, hallucinogenic atmosphere with the direct, listener friendly tunesmithery of indie pop to create an album which deftly balances tuneful familiarity with more challenging and exploratory moments in just the right ratios to satisfy on both counts - think of Deerhunter / Atlas Sound's approach and you're on the right track.
Title track "Copper Hills (Atacama Dreaming)" is a great advertisement for the diversity on display here, with it's unpredictable tempo changes leading from a frantically busy prog-punk verse into a beautiful, mellotron laden half-speed chorus atop a lovely, glacial, descending guitar part that will melt you.
"Patagonia" on the other hand, is the band at their most direct and straightforward, but still manages to work in an excellent breakdown in lieu of a chorus (which actually does sound like the band has broken down), and some extremely appealing and archaic sounding vintage synth squiggles.
Hell, even when they try their hand at an acoustic campfire singalong on "After The Rainbow" it comes out all skewed and off-kilter.
"Atacama Dreaming" is a really satisfying listen. The pop pay-off to challenging noise ratio really makes the listener feel rewarded for the attention they're paying, and the two sides mesh seamlessly after a few listens to the point where you'll forget that parts of it were deeply confusing on a first listen anyway. Couple that with sleek indie-friendly production quality and you're left with an envelope pushing gem of an album that you can play to your friends who think they're too cool for genre music, without them even realizing they're listening to a psychedelic milestone.
Very nice.

Name your price download available here:

9 Feb 2014

Starving Daughters "We Were Eggs" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

L.A based Starving Daughters spent a lot of time on their second LP "We Were Eggs" and it shows. There's a tendency to think of instrumental psychedelic music as jam-based improvisation, but these guys approach psychedelia with a progressive rock mindset that imposes melody and structure, but with plenty of room for spontaneity which "We Were Eggs" displays in spades.
Starving Daughter member Chris Tillotson also runs an excellent blog dedicated to rare library and soundtrack music of a progressive nature which gives a good clue to their mindset, but also a false impression as to what their music actually sounds like. Whereas the library genre is a fairly specialist field, the music that Starving Daughters create has a much more universal appeal - even more impressive when it's instrumental focus is taken into account. Eschewing vocals in favour of dialogue and vocal samples which should seem gimmicky but are so perfectly placed that it's hard to imagine the music without them, "We Were Eggs" is full of dynamic progressive rock with deeply psychedelic textures which will appeal to fans of either genres, even if they're usually turned off by the other.
I'm most often reminded of Pink Floyd, but a Pink Floyd with a much more focused sense of dynamics and an awareness of what a bit of urgency can inject into proceedings.
Much as I love them, instrumental albums (especially lengthy ones like this) can have a tendency to sound samey, but Tillotson and co. keep things moving at a rapid clip with plenty of diversity, and most importantly an abundance of memorable and lyrical melodies that makes differentiating the tracks here no problem.
They're full of surprises too. The fabulous "Migration Cosmics" starts out with an expansive half time space rock section before evolving into something that sounds like Link Wray tackling "Apache" through Neil Young's guitar rig. The title track has a jazzy, "Albatross" vibe. "Full Moon Mutants" is monolithic stoner prog rock with killer nasal fuzz tones. "Felix Darnell" builds an atmospheric piece of eastern exotica around an intoxicating vocal sample.
You get the picture - a varied and ambitious epic that slots together seamlessly despite it's many seemingly unconnectable strands, and an album that I'm sure I'll be poring over for a long time to come.

Available here digitally or on vinyl:

8 Feb 2014

Airbag "The Greatest Show on Earth" Review

Reviewed by Dedric Moore

Airbag spent two years making "The Greatest Show on Earth" and you can tell they spent quite a bit of time working on the little bits and pieces. All of the instruments have a pristine recording quality that lets you hear every note, every kick, every delay and reverb. The album flows from one song to the next in a practical order for the ear building swells and then dropping down to near silence.
"Call Me Back" is the centerpiece that shows the patience Airbag has to let a song grow beyond simple songwriting structure. 
"Redemption" comes closest to riffing guitars as it is pushed along by a bass and drum groove that keeps percolating as guitars explode occasionally and then lean back and allow the organs to add their menace.   
"Silence Grows" is a piano-filled slow rocker that shows a gentler side to Airbag, and then they throw in a massive dual guitar solo so you don’t think they forgot about adding the guitars. 
"The Greatest Show On Earth" is another mid-tempo piece that shows off Bjorn Riis’s guitar shredding ability, which is capable of performing extended solos over a 7-minute jam.
This leads us to "Surveillance" and the three parts involved.  Part 1 acts as an intro to the mood and sonic environment that Airbag are going to present. Part 2 and 3 are mixed together for an album side length of nearly 17 minutes that sum up all of the comments I made earlier; soaring guitar builds, mid-tempo contemplative grooves and did I mention lots of guitars?
Airbag admit on their website that they’ve been compared to late era Pink Floyd. As a listener I can say that I haven’t found a band that has tried to capture Gilmour’s tone or the tempo pace of Pink Floyd as heard on "The Delicate Sound Of Thunder" as much as Airbag has been able to. Airbag are able to take those references and then add in their own style that will have you agree that yes, you too, do like Gilmour’s solos but Airbag are able to touch that sound but still bring in their focus on songwriting with a modern sound that emits emotion and makes for a good listen. 

Available here on vinyl, and here on CD.

6 Feb 2014

Violet Swells "Jupiters Garden" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Bloody hell, the Australians are brilliant at psychedelia right now. I've covered a bunch of different Australian artists over the last year or two that have played material that has ranged from heavy psych to krautrock to nu-gaze, and now Hobart's Violet Swells throw their hat in the ring and prove themselves to be masters of effortlessly swirling psychedelic baroque-pop.
Where the other Australian artists I've featured often tend to operate at the heavier rock end of the psych spectrum, Ben Simms and his crew have an ear for melody and a knack for a classic sounding baroque pop tune that to their credit and the listener's benefit, they never make vintage for vintage sake - retro rock this isn't. There's certainly an acknowledgement of their influences, with these two sides coming in somewhere between Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett, but they're presented in the sort of beat heavy, contemporary format that successful crossover artists like Tame Impala and Temples have adopted, with exquisite attention to detail in both arrangements and production.
A-side "Jupiters Garden" has more than a whiff of Jacco Gardener about it, with a massive riff in tow and a huge percussive sound that makes it impossible to not at least fidget to, as well as some lovely, unexpected mellotron moments during the bridge. It's a huge track, but the b-side "Only" is arguably even better - a mellow baroque-pop waltz, gifted with an exquisite melody that's as subtle as it is infectious.
Definitely more than the sum of it's parts, this is extremely impressive stuff, even more so when you bear in mind that it's a debut.

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Available as a name your price download here:

4 Feb 2014

Mayflower Madame "Into The Haze" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Oslo based four piece Mayflower Madame are out of the gates without the slightest signs of indecisiveness, with their debut E.P (available here on vinyl or digitally) boasting both confidence and a huge studio sound that you'd expect if a major label had thrown a bunch of money at them (which they haven't yet).

They've already shared the festival stage with the likes of Nick Cave and have opened for lauded American psych rockers the Night Beats and Crystal Stilts, which may seem like acts that are poles apart, but the realm Mayflower Madame inhabit is settled snugly midway between these two camps. This is brooding, dark psychedelia built on the bones of post-punk outfits like Joy Division, the Birthday Party, the Psychedelic Furs or if you prefer a more contemporary comparison, Interpol.
The end result is not unlike something that Toy would come up with if they had an Echo and the Bunnymen fixation and had never heard Neu! before, with the hooks necessary to pull this off well all present and correct.

It's not often that you hear a debut like this - filler free, extremely sure of itself and balancing pop smarts with claustrophobic darkness at just the right levels to seem self aware, but not written to a formula.

Vocalist / guitarist Trond F has a compelling tenor that conjures images of Nick Cave, Iggy, Jim Morrison and the like, and a muscular guitar style that isn't above adding some layered, grungey powerchords to amp up the drama (opener "Hot Blood Shivering" making particularly good use of this dynamic).

It's not all Sturm und drang either - there's a moody little breakdown partway through "Pitfalls" where the bluster is all sucked into a vacuum, leaving the sort of creepy, sinuous guitar part that few have done so well since Slint's "Spiderland".

An extremely confident debut with huge crossover potential, which means that if you want to get a vinyl copy of this, you'd better get in quick (it's a limited pressing of 250 copies) - once word gets out, these are gonna disappear.

Vinyl and digital available here:

3 Feb 2014

Tinkerbell's Fairydust Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I haven't been paying as much attention to the vintage psychedelic reissue scene lately as I normally would, so I decided when I opened the promo package from Grapefruit Records that contained this that I'd cover it whether I liked it or not.
Not a new release strictly speaking, this was originally compiled in 2009 and has sold sufficiently well since to ensure a repress was necessary (surely a good sign?)
Tinkerbell's Fairydust is a name I've seen referred to often, but have up until now resisted investigating further. Quite how all band members unanimously agreed that going by such a name was a good move (even at the height of psychedelia's obsession with toytown paraphernalia) is beyond me, and indicative of similarly poor decisions being made musically surely? And surely that name could promise little beyond the most twee pop of the period? The fact that their sole album was pulled at the very last minute by Decca seemed enough to justify these entirely uninformed prejudices of mine.
Had I been a little less boorish and investigated a little further however I would have noticed among it's number a cover of Jeff Beck's guitar showcase "Jeff's Boogie" - an entirely inappropriate number for the hopelessly twee harmony pop act that my imagination had forecast to tackle.
And so, as doubts set in Tinkerbell's Fairydust (it still makes me cringe) gradually won me over.
The first thirteen tracks that make up the original self titled album certainly don't constitute a classic - there's a fair amount of ups and downs here - but the ups are considerably more triumphant than a myriad of other also-rans of the period managed. A hard rocking cover of "(You Keep Me) Hangin' On" is surprisingly gritty and musically adventurous (although owing an obvious debt to the Vanilla Fudge verison, which I think it betters), while "Twenty Ten" (recorded in 1967) is a bach infused look forward to the pastoral proto-prog of the Moody Blues and Barclay James Harvest which deserves credit for being a bit of a front runner, as well as a top tune in it's own right.
There's a fairly even 50/50 split between adventurous psychedelic pop of this nature, and fairly generic harmony pop that was old hat by this point (sometimes reminiscent of the Four Seasons, but more often the Beach Boys), with only the most mild psychedelic tendencies.
So the original album itself doesn't make this a must buy, but the quality of several of the bonus tracks elevates this beyond it's 'maybe I should' status. A slew of bonus tracks from post Tinkerbell's outfit the Rush continue in the weak harmony pop vein, but bookending them are a couple of real gems. Firstly, Jeff Lynne's "Follow Me Follow" in two versions including a magical acoustic demo version - I believe these cuts date from before the Idle Race's recorded versions but could be wrong.
Best of all of the bonus tracks though is an early single from pre Tinkerbell's Fairydust beat combo Tommy Bishop's Ricochets, both sides of which are present here, the a-side in particular being a particularly winning minor key beat ballad.
So, not all good, but the best material on here is pretty essential stuff for genre collectors, and unless you have upwards of $1000 to plump on one of the original withdrawn LPs, your best way of adding this to your collection.

"Tinkerbells Fairydust" is available on CD here.

2 Feb 2014

New Electric Ride "Balloon Age" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Last year's fabulous self titled E.P still gets a regular airing here at Active Listener Towers, and I predicted big things in the future for New Electric Ride. Now, lo and behold - a full length vinyl LP, fame, fortune, babes hanging off each arm etc.
Now, far from me having mysterious and mystical powers of insight, it was a simple fact that at some point someone from a label would hear New Electric Ride, and said person would almost inevitably make haste to their door with contract in hand. And New York's Beyond Beyond is Beyond are the lucky label benefactors.
Past endeavours (Prince Rupert's Drops, Kiki Pau) and new signings (the fantastic Kikagaku Moyo) have shown that BBIB are incredibly selective about what they release. Despite this, "Balloon Age" stands head and shoulders above the pack as the best release associated with the label to this point.
New Electric Ride have come a long way already. Of the five underexposed and uniformly excellent tracks on the E.P, they've only chosen to revisit two on "Balloon Age", including the E.P's clear standout track "Lovers" (which you can download free here) which finds a nice middle ground between Tame Impala and John Lennon at his most cathartic.
What the new material on "Balloon Age" does is recognize the strengths of the E.P and capitalizes on them big time.
"Submarine Song" is an extremely witty Beatles homage ("isn't it mean how no-one can dream about writing a submarine song anymore") that the Rutles would kill for and shows their pop side at it's most melodic, and it has to be said, if we're comparing band's Submarine songs, maybe Ringo should have been given this one to sing. Just saying.
There's also spastic prog-pop ("Marquis De Sade"), psychedelic soul ("I Feel So Invited"), and Traffic-esque acoustic guitar / flute psych pop odes ("I Can't Help But Smile"), all of which feel like natural extensions of what they do, rather than ill-fitting persona's being awkwardly tried on.
It's New Electric Ride's way with a winning pop hook that's their greatest asset though. "Bye Bye (Baton Rouge)" is a timeless pop song that perfectly synthesizes the then with the now and could conceivably have come from any point in between.
And it's by no means the tallest poppy in this field.

Available Feb 25 - pre-order Vinyl or CD here, or digital through the widget below:

1 Feb 2014

The Driftwood Manor "Of The Storm" Review

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Driftwood Manor, Eddie Keenan’s on-going folk project, are a relatively underground but still hugely prolific and darkly creative collective; this is their second album in roughly a year if you count the superb cassette/ download ‘A Cross Atop A Hill’. The press release accompanying this fine album describes these songs as being primarily of ‘death and loss’, touching upon similar lyrical concerns as earlier Driftwood material which could at times lean towards an almost gothic folk sound. Musically, although not as expansive and rich as ‘The Same Figure Leaving’ (which drew both critical and popular acclaim from those in the know), ‘Of the Storm’ is nonetheless a quiet yet powerful and often majestic album.
Opening with the acapella ‘Be There When I Die’, a plaintive and fatalistic lament, the album initially sticks to the more stripped back sound of ‘A Cross Atop A Hill’; ‘Afloat By The Grace Of Your God’ and ‘Among The Secrets Of The Rain’ are both warm yet starkly beautiful acoustic reflections that hint at a spiritual and more peaceful landscape than has been apparent on some The Driftwood Manor’s more twisted and barbed previous work. However ‘Tell Your Troubles to a Stone’ rectifies this with blasts of molten guitar and chanted, sinister vocals before switching to finish with a jaunty yet tense acoustic waltz. This is The Driftwood Manor’s forte; this is folk music and beautiful folk music at that (Keenan’s voice has never sounded better, it literally washes and crashes like waves upon the delicate and sparse backdrop of guitar, mandolin and bouzouki) yet there is also a hint of something else; something more experimental and darker at work. To watch the Wicker Man styled masked processions in the video for ‘Blackbirds Are Screaming’ gives an idea of some of the influences and machinations at work in this most enigmatic and reclusive project. A prime example of this off kilter and pagan infusion is this album’s ‘Ceremony’’, its flute and double tracked vocals speaks of crows, churches and the singer’s looming fate; an elegy to our own demise and the eternal circle of birth, death and rebirth.
‘I Never Will Love Anymore’ is a jig soaked in bitterness and resignation, bouzouki and bile. Similarly ‘If I Could Kill the Demon Drink’ is a paean to lost love and regret and sounds as ancient as the hills. This music is drenched in the landscape of the band’s native Ireland and if any of these tracks were listed as traditional rather than Keenan’s no eyebrows would be raised. These songs are timeless, dusty, filled with ghosts and speak as much of the past as the present; indeed there is sepia quality to these tracks, they exist slightly out of space and time. It is a rare magic that can cast such a spell but The Driftwood Manor are adept at both touching your heart and chilling your bones. ‘God Knows I’m A Sinner For You Now’ is a lovely, fiddle led Bonnie Prince Billy style affair, complete with hushed backing vocals from Brigid Power-Ryce and the most melancholy of vocals from Keenan. Album closer ‘Limbs’ is solely bouzouki and voice, suggestive of late period Nick Drake in its spooked and howling dread.
The Driftwood Manor have always been obtuse yet melodic, obscure yet familiar, traditional yet left field. Now they are increasingly mature, accomplished and producing music that may yet push them out of the underground. Their last three albums are as good as any that crop up in any ‘100 best albums of all time’ lists in the more mainstream music press. Time for you to start beachcombing.

Released on 12" vinyl by Private Press Music (www.privatepressmusic.com)  in December 2013, or digitally via Bandcamp below: