31 Jul 2014

Reviews in Brief - Matt Berry / Soft Walls / Odawas

Reviews by Nathan Ford

All manner of treats for you today:

Matt Berry's latest vintage homage "Music For Insomniacs" (actually recorded prior to "Kill The Wolf") was knocked together during sleepless nights (hence the title). While it has moments of ambient splendour, there's much too much going on for this to have any of the narcoleptic qualities that its title implies, despite what a few of its detractors have suggested. Stretching back to a potentially hoary old tradition of instrumental prog albums with two side-length tracks, "Music For Insomniacs" is unusually restless and schizophrenic. Certainly there are moments that recall "Tubular Bells", Jean Michel Jarre and Goblin, but Berry also manages to seamlessly integrate robotic disco funk and a whole lot more into the mix to make this more than just a knowing tribute. I get the impression that at some point Berry is going to make a record too clever for its own good, but this isn't it. Extremely enjoyable, and I'm still wide awake.

"No Time" is the second album by Brighton based Dan Reeves' one man band Soft Walls and the first to appear on Trouble in Mind Records rather than Dan's own highly respected Faux Discx label. An extremely appealing hybrid of krauty post-punk and bedroom psychedelia, "No Time" is loaded with tunes that I can't get out of my head, propulsive, motorik rhythms, woozy organs and all manner of other things that tick the boxes that I want ticked when I drop the needle. "Never Come Back Again" is the sort of track that leads to all sorts of unhealthy obsessions and it's got plenty of company here. Essential.

Odawas are a new name to me, but they have a history stretching quite some way, with several releases on the esteemed Jagjaguwar label. Latest album "Reflections of a Pink Laser" has found a home on French label Bookmaker Records, and is I gather a bit of a pleasant surprise for fans, with sessions for their last album breaking down, before being entirely abandoned with the duo going on what many assumed was a permanent hiatus. But back they are, and with the label making the outlandish claim that they sound like "Philip K. Dick orchestrating the meeting of Neil Young and Tangerine Dream"  I was eager to listen. Wonderous stuff it is too, and decidedly odd. Members Michael James Tapscott and Isaac Edwards approach things from two completely different directions (one wispy campfire Americana, the other spacey keyboard-laden kosmische), with the results being both thrillingly intimate, and as large as the cosmos. Mercury Rev fans will be right in their element. The term "cosmic American" doesn't get used as a descriptor much these does - more's the pity, because it's found a more literal, and compelling champion here than it had in its heyday.

29 Jul 2014

Circulatory System "Mosaics Within Mosaics"

Reviewed by Jason Simpson (Forestpunk)

I always forget that Circulatory System is the project of Will Hart. I also forget how much I miss Olivia Tremor Control and the other Elephant 6 offshoots until I press plunge and am submerged in Hart's world of dreamy, orchestral, slack- key grandeur.

Post-modernism has never had its true anthem. The closest corollary would be Alice's adventures in Wonderland and through the looking glass, and even that is at a distance as Alice was a representative from the Victorian age dealing with the chaos and confusion with proper etiquette and rote learning. She was never totally IN it.

Will Hart, along with a bunch of other E6 alum have composed a proper soundtrack to many of the 20th centuries hardest lessons. There's uncertainty ("You might never know why" from "The Reasons Before You Knew"), relativity ("It's funny how long it's been, for the young rocks on the shore", from "Aerial View of a Heart (From Above)", linguistics (the double entendre wordplay of "When You're Small"), sub-atomics and hermetic philosophy, "Stars And Molecules"), existentialism ("Does it feel like a dream/you'll never wake up from", also from "The Reasons...."), and transcendentalism ("When you open up your mind, will it open other windows", also from "Stars And Molecules").

While these may be difficult concepts, "Mosaics Within Mosaics" is not difficult listening. It's quite the opposite in fact. Most of "Mosaics Within Mosaics" is gentle, swaying, shambolic psychedelic pop that wouldn't sound out of place on a Stephen Malkmus or Steely Dan record, not to mention the classics like The Beatles or the E6 canon. The closest comparison is Will Hart's own "Dusk At Cubist Castle" with Olivia Tremor Control, as "Mosaics..." follows a similar pattern of glorious, catchy pop tunes arising from a surreal bricolage of concrete cut-up collage, here in the form of "Mosaic #?", 8 in all, making the tunes seem like atomized fragments of half-recalled memories, arising from the confusion of the subconscious, from the ether of the id. This can best be seen on "Open Up Your Lives", whose chiming chords and questioning lyrics arise from a bramble of crackles and refrigerator drones, and returns to a sound sculpture of infinite squeeze boxes played by disembodied hands.

While these tunes may be poppy and infectious, they are still weird as sin as can be seen on "Over Dinner A Cardinal Spoke" which sounds like a klezmer wedding band's take on The Grateful Dead's "Eyes Of The World". It reminds me of Yo La Tengo's video for "Tom Courtnay", which features Ira Kaplan playing clarinet in the bathroom stall of a rock 'n roll camp like some high school stoner, only to be busted by an Ace Frehley look-alike. We all know this is the true rock 'n roll; doing what you want, being true to thine own self, giving music a much longer shelf life than the mock pyrotechnics of the arena warriors which too quickly passes from true epics to flabby pretense.

"Mosaics Within Mosaics" is a true achievement for a number of reasons. The most publicized would be the contributions of other Elephant 6 allies Derek Almstead (Faster Circuits), John Fernandes (Olivia Tremor Control), Heather McIntosh (The Instruments), AJ Griffin (Laminated Cat), Peter Erchick (The Olivia Tremor Control, Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't), and most notably the first ferric appearance of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum since 2009 (and that was only a single song for a contribution) along with fellow NMHer Jeremy Barnes, who also plays in A Hawk Or A Hacksaw.

This record is not reliant on cameos to be a stunning success or achievement however. "Mosaics Within Mosaics" is the first Circulatory System since 2009, and Will Hart has been battling with Multiple Sclerosis in the meantime which can make tying your shoes difficult, let alone composing a brilliant, timeless psychedelic travelogue. We are all the better, for Hart's perseverance. "Mosaics Within Mosaics" asks more questions than it offers answers. It reflects the cloud of confusion of living in a world with seven billion perspectives (not to mention the other living organisms on earth) with immediate access to people and places all over the globe and sometimes, the galaxy. It begins to be difficult to speak objectively, authoritatively. You can only speak for yourself, for your own experience. And not even then, as who knows completely what influences and effects us. If cosmic horror like H. P. Lovecraft or Thomas Ligotti describes the terror of this dissolution, Circulatory System is the sound of embracing freefall. How I Learned To Stop Worrying, and Love The Moment.

"Mosaics Within Mosaics" is the kind of record that makes you sad when the review is over, as I no longer have reason to obsessively listen over and over, looking for clues and latch keys in the lyrics, speculating on choices of instrument and structure. It's a coded puzzle, a matrix of songs, which yields more strange, beautious organisms with each successive listen. A true and faithful relation of the disintegration of the persistence of memory.

Available here on vinyl, and here on CD.

28 Jul 2014

Georgio ‘The Dove’ Valentino & La Société des Mélancoliques "Mille Plateaux"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

A performance piece collated over the space of a year and recorded across Belgium, France, Scotland, the Netherlands and the United States, ‘Mille Plateaux’ is an epic and sprawling work that at turns is heartrending and darkly romantic yet is also both thrilling and dynamic; truly this is Valentino’s magnum opus. Based in Belgium and featuring members of Tuxedomoon in his backing band La Société des Mélancoliques, Valentino is a chanson extraordinaire, the heart of Brel beating in his tales of the downtrodden, of danger and deception. And the music; a shimmering orchestra of 50's heartbreak, psych guitar, Bad Seeds piano and Love style trumpet flourishes, all creating an able backdrop to Valentino’s baritone.

‘I Wish We Were Insects (Edinburgh)’s creeping sitar styled guitar opens the album with atmospheric intent before the band create a storming psych maelstrom of violin, vocal and howling guitar. As an opener, this genuinely takes the breath away. Echoes of the Banshees and The Chameleons goth-psych guitar resonate as Valentino's croon swirls across the luxurious orchestration. Fans of Echo And The Bunnymen’s 'Ocean Rain' era will find much to love here. ‘Don’t Do Me Any Favours’ is a disorientating tango through doomed romance and vintage sci-fi keyboards. ‘Japanese Dream’ with its stirring and strident violin dramatics is a haunted and melancholy torch song of some power; think Tindersticks meets Nick Grey. Instrumental ‘The Gift of Fury’ is the bar band from hell; echoed 50's guitar twangs over urgent piano runs to create a Twin Peaks soundtrack that never was, scorched guitar reverbating through the pines. ‘Mille Plateaux (Brussels)’s guitar drives the song forward with desperate, brooding style, wailing across the shadows like the Bad Seeds meet Link Wray. ‘I Won’t Betray You’ is an unsettling and dark as night ballad, leading the listener into some deranged cabaret; something wicked this way comes indeed. The track maintains its solemnity until it explodes into furious life, the piano providing focused intent and the Eastern tinged guitar screaming white hot into the night. You must hear this; why Valentino is not spoken of in the same vein as Cave, McCulloch or Stuart Staples is a mystery. 'Mille Plateaux (Toulouse)' is an acoustic and reverbed guitar run through the former track and is a widescreen epic; surely someone compiling the soundtrack to ‘True Detective’ season two must include this?

‘Neitzchean Love Theme’ is a twisted pop song in the best sense; a waltz of perfect pop sensibility and gloriously melancholy melody. Almost Smiths-ian in its beautiful shimmering jangle this track demonstrates yet another shade in Valentino’s palette of sonic colour and texture. ‘I Wish We Were Insects (Amsterdam)’ is a re-run through the album opener with added accordion to give it that extra Brel flavour. A shanty of enormous drama and swagger, the piano literally sweats regret and doomed hope over the song as increasingly deranged fiddle spirals the emotion higher and higher. Reminiscent of Mikelangelo And The Black Sea Gentlemen at their finest this is a sinister ballroom dance in Hades. 'Washed out World’ is a 60's Spectoresque teenage pop classic, albeit with some twisted and shadowy corners.

‘Bête Noire’ is a thunderous Mariachi trumpet led piece of perfection; tension and the risk of troubled romance only a heartbeat away. 'Sobborghi’s noir piano is truly thrilling; you can almost taste the rain soaked midnight streets, the chanson leading the listener into a world of broads, gin bars and danger. In contrast ‘Il Vino’ is a Scott Walker styled downbeat barroom melodrama, a shadowy tale reminiscent of broken hearts and stale smoke. ‘Ha Tutte Le Carte In Regola’s weeping accordion leads into a heartbroken Piaf-esque paean the likes of which Marc Almond would have been proud of in his La Magia days. Rumbling with tension and driven with sinister guitar arpeggios this song creates a twilight world all of its own. Closer ‘Sul Porto Di Livorno’ is a dusky and darkening late night cityscape; mournful trumpet accompanying crying cascades of piano and the loneliest, bereft vocal you’ll ever hear. A truly beautiful and affecting end to the album, its broken hearted yet defiant stance is a perfect summing up of the album's intent.

Available now as a double vinyl album with lovely artwork from the man himself or at Shiny Beat Music Mailorder.


25 Jul 2014

7" Singles Roundup - Paul Messis / Groovy Uncle & Suzi Chunk / Forever Pavot

Paul Messis "Nightmares" b/w "Penny Arcade"
Paul's material always sounds like it's ideally suited to the one-two punch of single format to me, and his latest is no different. A-side "Nightmares" continues the moody minor key approach of his last album "Case Closed" with visceral garage-punk undertones aided immeasurably by jagged slashes of well placed tremeloed guitar chords. "Penny Arcade" on the flip is the real winner though, with a more buoyant melody belying its melancholy lyrics - dreamy and quite lovely with a lonesome, wailing harmonica solo. Definitely one of the best deliberately vintage garage practitioners out there. Fans of the Dovers, Byrds, Nuggets comps etc need this immediately.
Available now from 13 O'Clock Records or directly from Paul below:

Groovy Uncle & Suzi Chunk "Wet Weekend" / "Barefoot In The Carpark"
Following on from last year's marvelous "One Vowel Away From The Truth" album, Glenn Prangnell's fab Medway geezers Groovy Uncle have once again joined forces with the wonderful Welsh pipes of Suzi Chunk. A teaser for an upcoming album (called "Persuaded" I'm told), this double a-sider allows both parties a chance to shine, with the aching melancholy of Prangnell's "Wet Weekend" acting as a perfect counterpoint to Chunk's storming "Barefoot in The Carpark", which benefits immensely from some of the best vintage horn charts that you'll hear this side of a James Hunter session. Ridiculously good.
Available from State Records. 
Brief sample below which should be enough to get you reaching for your wallets:

Forever Pavot "Le Passeur d'Armes"
Great new 7" from Parisian Emile Sornin. Recorded in his home studio, the door of which must resemble a time machine of some sort. Immaculately produced and beautifully arranged, the title track is a marvelously sinuous piece of cinematic, psychedelic giallo funk ala Ennio Morricone, while the flipside "Farfichat" is a fabulous slice of whimsical baroque pop - again of a convincingly vintage design, and bound to appeal to fans of likeminded souls like Jacco Gardner and The Violet Swells. Looking forward to a full album from Sornin - this is going to get plenty of repeat plays in the meantime.
7" available here, digital available below:

Triptides "Colors"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Jaunt is a small operation out of Portland, Oregon and if their other artists are of the same calibre as Triptides, then this is a good thing indeed. Triptides are billed as ‘psychedelic surf rock’, and that is sort of accurate. The psych part is dead on, but I am not sure how much surf rock influence is reflected here. I hear more of a Byrdsian influence, especially on the swirling sonics of “Throne of Stars”, with its extended jam in the middle of the song. And the title track, “Colors” has rather modern riffing coupled with reverb drenched vocals. “Moonbeams” has a haunting guitar line that repeats and anchors the song, along with groovy organ. The trippy “I Didn’t Know” could have easily been slotted in with the best of the Paisley Underground, or any of the equally acid drenched music from the late 60s. The appropriately titled “Lullabye”, which closes the album, is mannered, pastoral pop with twinkling keys and a sedate and calming pace which lulls you into a happy, drowsed state.

No matter what you hear in, around, and between these six, brief works of psychedelic art, if you’re a fan of this genre, you will definitely like this EP. For fans of good music everywhere.

Available on cassette or digitally here:

24 Jul 2014

Adam Leonard "Octopus 1"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Adam Leonard may not be a name that a lot of you are familiar with (although I've championed him in the past when I was lucky enough to discover this astonishing album, currently downloadable for free here). Despite this lamentable semi-obscurity, Adam has built up a sizeable stockpile of rarities and unreleased material that he's now proposing to release in the eight part "Octopus" series (see what he did there?), the first volume of which is out on the 8th of the 8th (oh, stop it).

An eight volume rarities collection may sound proportionately a bit out of kilter for an artist with a back catalogue the size of Adam's so I will readily admit that I went into this with a combination of curiosity and bewilderment (both natural states of mine), not really knowing what to expect. This is perhaps a good approach to take to Adam's music, as he has a severe case of musical schizophrenia that sees him trying his hand at all sorts of things here and succeeding admirably with all of them here. I'm not even needing to use that old "interesting" euphemism card that I had tucked up my sleeve.

Opener "Lord's Station" sounds like he's donned mad scientist garb and slipped into the local church at night to soundtrack a giallo after spending the day listening to New Order. There's also quality lo-fi acoustic singer songwriter fragments committed to tape seemingly spontaneously ("UFO Over Bidston", the Beatles "Lovely Rita"), immaculate eighties style synth pop ala John Foxx ("Film Noir") and everywhere a sense of effortless songcraft encapsulated perfectly by the Syd Barrett by way of Robyn Hitchcock closer "I'm Gonna Sleep With Myself (Tonight)" - mad as a bag of hammers and twice as lovely.

If Volumes two through eight can match this, your ears are going to get very, very fat.

Oh, and did I mention that these monthly releases will all be available as free/name your own price downloads? Mad.

Available here 8/8/14.

So There "The Hidden Claw"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

So There’s mysterious psych and experimental dérives have been haunting the internet’s darker corners for some time now; it is therefore a delight to finally have a physical copy of what can perhaps best be described as Nurse With Wound meets Syd Barrett down the truly trippiest and darkest rabbit hole. ‘The Hidden Claw’ offers fifteen golden nuggets of wyrd psychedelia and spooked snippets of songs started, abandoned, reconvened and collaged into a tapestry of the uncanny. Sinister whimsy indeed.

‘Excursions’ begins with some Floyd guitar runs before the sound of a full psych garage band enters. Just as quickly, backwards scrapes and voices take over before the deranged psych jam returns. It is at turns jarring, thrilling and entirely unique. ‘After The Empty Dungeon’ starts off as a dust laden and cobwebbed dub; lost and crackling conversation entering and fading as sitar and chimes create a soundtrack of genuine drama and mystery. Unexpectedly, banjo from some distant year strolls in through the side door as if caught in a time loop before disappearing into the birdsong of ‘Mitigated Brains Of Select Channels’. This song is truly a saucerful of secrets with its backwards tapes and eternally looping echoes from deep space. Think early 70's Floyd meets Steven Stapleton. 'Togg', with its ghostly piano refrain and sudden orchestral Sherlockian theme, is as accomplished a piece of psych strangeness as you will find anywhere. Muffled and disturbing conversations emerge and echo into ‘Tomorrow’s Carriage’ which, with its Marc Wilkinson styled strings and droning guitar, could easily soundtrack some long lost Tigon 1970's classic British folk horror film. Hauntological and yet of no fixed time reference this is musick to play in the dark. The song bubbles (literally!) away as ‘Posing Ten Streets Away’ wheezes into view, its archaic rhythms ebbing and flowing amongst insect sound and clanking. Unidentifiable sounds and instruments suggest and whisper melodies before disappearing into the shadows.

This is an unusual album but make no mistake; it is a deeply catchy and inventively melodic piece of work. ‘Recalling’s delicate acoustic and analogue keyboard add a melancholy and wistful layer to the album which, as a whole, works as a soundtrack of sorts. Indeed, ‘The Hidden Claw’ may well be the accompaniment to an avant garde and out of print classic European movie, it sounds like it would fit perfectly in this role. ‘Never Seen A Postcard’s bluesy guitar is almost straight forward until it ultimately descends into a maelstrom of spaced out strings. ‘Rinse Cackles’ is genuinely exciting; a masterful piece of surf guitar Dead Kennedys style, adding a further shadowy element to what is already a very Noir album. This is So There however, so the surf ebbs away into a cacophony of tabla and distant radio voices before a whirlwind of treated strings and guitar and voice crashes into the picture. This is then only to be obscured by some unhinged and unsettling organ, creating a disturbing 'Susperia’ vibe. 'The True Circus’ is a creeped out Tom Waits-ian piano and flute crawl which merges into ‘Eva’s Crept Shy’ with its gothic keyboards and shudders of noise. Children’s voices mutter in the darkness adding an edge of hysteria to the already haunting canvas. ‘Manor’ comes on like a particularly insane outtake from Hawkwind’s ‘Warrior at the Edge of Time’, with a train whistling through the stuttering and deranged soundscape. ‘Blank Eagle’ (folk horror fans might like to treat this title as an anagram) introduces processionary acoustic pickings and a pagan choir before vocals create what is the most standard song on the album. But what a song; harpsichord and spiralling psych guitar take us screaming into the stratosphere. The haunted house of ‘Sherlock Of The Opera’ is a 1950’s hula nightmare of twisted Beach Boys guitar and chamber echoed vocals. Finally, ‘Hobnail’s Beam’ is a beautiful acoustic lament which would not be out of place on a classic acid folk album by the likes of Forest.

This is a truly disorientating and wonderful album; a dusty wardrobe crammed full of ideas, concepts and conceits. It is a magical Lewis Carroll ride from start to finish and is psychedelic in the truest sense; both otherworldly and musically accomplished you must hear this to believe it. As a half remembered dream and a beautiful nightmare, the music of So there will echo through your nights long after the stereo is switched off. This is a classic cult album the likes of which you will never come across again. Follow the rabbit. He knows where he is going.

Out now in a limited edition with a beautiful handmade sleeve on the splendid Reverb Worship label.

So There on Soundcloud.

22 Jul 2014

The Active Listener Sampler #22 Out Now

This month's best new music sampler is now available.

The cover art comes from Eric Adrian Lee - check out more of his amazing work here: http://ericadrianleedesign.tumblr.com/

This month's sampler features the following tracks:

1. Bozmo - Leather Umbrella 02:42
2. House of Fire - The Keeper of the Doors 04:16
3. The Oscillation - Corridor (Cable Street Sessions Version) 06:38
4. The Rainy Afternoons - Siren Song 05:29
5. Sam Asgari - Child Of The Autumn 01:30
6. Monta at Odds - Relentless Pursuit 02:09
7. Mark Alan Lofgren - A Pocketful of Bliss 02:02
 8. Seas, Starry - Faint Praise 03:19
9. Tara King Th. - Magnetic Bounds 04:36
10. Briars Frome - Black Carrion 05:01
11. Kingdom of the Holy Sun - Thirteen Eyes 03:17
12. Vintage Cucumber - Neuland (Ins Glück hinein...) 06:18
13. Brian Grainger - Crumbling White Oracle Of Sadness 09:13
14. Alpha Waves - Vampiric Vultures 05:32
15. Shadow Folk - Here At Home 04:29
16. Sleeping Orchard - The Whistle 03:38
17. Swimming in Bengal - Slow Burn 19:20

Download and stream here:

21 Jul 2014

"Keep Lookin' 80 More Mod, Soul & Freakbeat Nuggets"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A sequel of sorts to RPM's 2011 collection "Looking Back: 80 Mod, Freakbeat & Swinging London Nuggets", "Keep Lookin"is largely more of the same, which in this case is a very good thing indeed.

"Looking Back" was intended as a diverse hold-all of rare sixties Brit-Mod and raided many worthwhile archives to collate its treasures, but was to all intents and purposes a Brits only affair. "Keep Lookin" throws the net a little wider to allow rare gems from the Commonwealth as far afield as New Zealand and Canada to get a look in, and is all the better for it.

There are plenty of familiar names to be heard here (just check those emblazoned over the sleeve above), as well as worthy obscurities by names known only to collectors and early appearances by artists who would go onto much bigger things. A roster that includes Lemmy, Marc Bolan, Bon Scott, Jimmy Page and Arthur Brown among others deserves some sort of investigation surely?

As before the mix features a little bit of everything which epitomised London cool in the sixties - r&b, beat, femme pop and mod soul, saving the best for last; a monstrous third disc crammed with rarely compiled freakbeat, psychedelic and proto-prog gems that are worth the price of admission alone.

Available here.

Reviews In Brief - The Laughing Trees / The Brian Jonestown Massacre / Briars Frome / Opeth / Swimming In Bengal

In an attempt to make my everpresent pile of albums to review more manageable I'm going to compile a regular brief reviews section where I will direct you towards extremely worthwhile new releases that I wouldn't otherwise have the time to write about.

Click on the album title to listen or buy.

Geelong's The Laughing Trees are back with a new E.P "Off Our Tree", which goes a long way to proving something that we already kind of knew; Australia has a pretty great garage / freakbeat scene. "Off Our Tree" is as good as anything that their more well known colleagues The Frowning Clouds have released recently, an enjoyably shambolic take on freakbeat with more than a little motor city mayhem to spice things up.

There's no need for me to cover this in great detail because every other website you can imagine has already done so, but everything that you're hearing about the new Brian Jonestown Massacre album "Revelation" is true; it's a potential career bester up to this point and gets better on every listen. Great production too, all done in house in Anton Newcombe's Berlin studio. If this is where a total no interference policy is leading him, leave him the hell alone. Essential.

Briars Frome is an interesting new E.P by Mark Back with a similar concept to the Soulless Party's excellent "Tales From The Black Meadow". Where it differs substantially from its other hauntological brethren is in its dominant use of guitars to conjure its mood of chilly desolation. Back is to be congratulated for the exceptional sense of atmosphere he creates here without falling back onto the standard hauntology staple of vintage analogue synths. As much as I love a bit of synth wizardry, it's refreshing to hear a different approach taken like this and I'd guess that fans of Opeth's quieter moments would find much to enjoy here.

Speaking of Opeth, their new album "Pale 
Communion" has just found its way onto my stereo and judging by this first listen it's likely to spend a considerable amount of time there. Where 2012's "Heritage" sounded tentative, this is a much more confident statement from Akerfeltand co. Much more vocally driven and with Akerfelt's clean vocals sounding more confident than ever this is perhaps the most seamless tapestry of melody and heaviness that Opeth have woven so far. There are plenty of fluid guitar leads working their way into the busy prog riffery to make this a much heavier album than "Heritage" without Akerfelt having to revert to his cookie monster vocals for impact. Focused, rhythmically varied and very satisfying.

Californian psychedelic / improv voyagers Swimming in Bengal have an excellent new album out which those of you like having their mind expanded by killer exotic jams should investigate immediately. Middle Eastern/South Asian melodies, rhythms, and drones are navigated fluidly by this exceptional three piece who make extensive use of gourds, tablas and various wind instruments to conjure vivid and unpredictable soundscapes which are just as likely to ensnare fans of world music and jazz as they are the psychedelically minded like ourselves.

Last up for today is Buffalo, New York's Makaras Pen who's latest E.P "Journeys To The End" is one of the best slices of shoegazey dreampop I've heard this year. Finding a middle ground somewhere between the lush melodic dreampop sounds of the Cocteau Twins and the heavier, cavernous guitars of Serena Maneesh, Makaras Pen sound extremely confident, and with Jenna Willis's vocals at the forefront who can blame them?

20 Jul 2014

The Shanes "Let Them Show You: The Anthology 1964-67"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Shanes may have only been the fourth most popular band in Sweden in the sixties but they had the longest hair and were almost certainly the grittiest (in the earlier part of the decade anyway).

Named after the western (which starred Jack Palance), the Shanes quickly graduated from Shadows-influenced western instrumentals to vocal beat and r&b when, as with so many other bands worldwide, they heard the Beatles (whom they supported in 1964) for the first time.

Unusually, their earlier vocal material largely bypassed the cutesy mersey pop that those influenced by the Beatles early on usually succumbed to. The Shanes' Tommy Wahlberg attributes this to the band being big fans of the Animals and Manfred Mann, and the rough hewn r&b of those bands is often evoked here, along with a gritty early mod sensibility that often sounds like early recordings by the Who and the Kinks (although many of these recordings by the Shanes pre-date recorded work by both of these bands).

Also unusual was the high percentage of band originals (this collection is entirely cover-free as far as I can gather), and a knack for writing consistently convincing and memorable singles, culminating in early highlights like the perfect Bo Diddley beat of "The Shanegang" and the snotty proto punk of "I Don't Want Your Love".

"Let Them Show You" collects 22 flawless r&b / beat gems from 1964 to 1967, and perfectly illustrates the hit making power hat saw the Shanes consistently near the top of the Tio i topp - the Swedish chart compiled from votes from radio play rather than sales. The fact that none of these made much of an impact outside of Sweden is baffling, but this collection should go some way towards righting those wrongs and introducing this most deserving group to a growing number of discerning sixties collectors.

Let Them Show You: The Anthology 1964-1967 is available here.

White Candles Vinyl Release On The Way From Sunstone Records

We're very pleased to be able to announce that one of our Active Listener Records releases - White Candles "Flowers for Delia" - will be making a vinyl appearance soon on the fabulous Sunstone Records label.

Three of the five tracks from "Flowers For Delia" will be released as a limited edition white vinyl 7" on Sunstone in September.

"Think Lamb lies down on Broadway seguing into Ruth White, White Noise, Kinks, USA and you're somewhere there" the Sunstone folks tell us, and that description works fine for me too.

Keep an eye on the Sunstone Records Facebook page for preorder details.

You can still stream or purchase the "Flowers for Delia" E.P here.

19 Jul 2014

The Rainy Afternoons "The Legendary Lost Rainy Afternoons E.P"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Rainy Afternoons is the solo project of a former guitarist from excellent Flying Nun band Garageland (who made a splash in the nineties with this great song, among others). I'm not being deliberately mysterious as to this gentleman's name - it's not mentioned on his Bandcamp page, and no one else who has written about the Rainy Afternoons has mentioned it either.

Now relocated from New Zealand to Dallas, Texas via a stint in London, our mystery protagonist has a considerable catalogue of material which has recently found its way onto Bandcamp (many on a free/name your price basis).

"The Legendary Lost Rainy Afternoons E.P" is as good a place to start as any.  "Siren Song" is the highlight - a Spacemen 3 influenced dronefest with a startling, lysergic guitar solo and chiming, Byrdsian electric twelve string. There's also a notable cover of "John Riley" to drive home the Byrds comparison further. It's got a harder edge than the original, with a crazed layer of "Eight Miles High" style twelve string exploration threatening to take the reins at any moment.

Excellent stuff, and downloadable here on a name your price/free basis:

17 Jul 2014

Eric Siday "The Ultra Sonic Perception" Don Harper "Cold Worlds"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Newish Australian reissue label Dual Planet gained a pretty big endorsement early on via their collaborations with supreme crate diggers Finders Keepers. Like Finders Keepers they focus on the painfully obscure but invariably brilliant. Unlike Finders Keepers however their focus is not on the global but on unearthing unknown Australian gems and presenting them to a global audience who are paying increasing levels of attention.

Their latest two releases couldn't come at a better time, and the fact that the masters of these tapes even still exist is astonishing.

It's surprising how much music used in the early years of Doctor Who came from Australian composers, including these two rare examples. Startling examples of early, pioneering electronica, they make for essential listening as enjoyable as it is influential.

First up is Eric Siday's "The Ultra Sonic Perception", a collection culled from a series of 78rpm 10" releases which showcases Siday's scientific study of sound, a concept he branded "The Ultra Sonic Perception". Combining electro-acoustic and early electronic music, Siday's atomic age sound vignettes were picked up by the BBC for use in early Doctor Who serials like The Space Museum, The Time Meddler, The Moonbase and more, helping to shape the show's eerie futuristic sounds - sounds which The BBC Radiophonic Workshop are generally given sole credit for devising, although artists like Siday were often not connected to the Beeb. By turns sinister and quirky there are lots of familiar pieces for the seasoned Doctor Who trainspotter here, and plenty for the rest of us to marvel at too.

Step forward a few years for our next release. Don Harper's "Cold Worlds" is built around a suite of music from late Patrick Troughton Cybermen invasion epic "The Invasion". Suitably enough for a story intended to portray the threat of an alien menace in a very familiar locale (contemporary London in this case), Harper's work is a more sophisticated and insidious combination of the alien and the everyday, effortlessly combining throbbing Radiophonic menace with unusual and off-kilter cinematic jazz like a paranoid, LSD addled John Barry.

Elsewhere there are moments that will seem eerily prescient to fans of the disturbing ambient side of David Bowie's "Heroes".  Also included on "Cold Worlds" is material from some of Harper's rare library releases, particularly those focusing on the sinister and otherworldly. This includes cues used memorably in George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" all of which makes this a bit of an essential treat too. Get them both.

Long may Dual Planet's archival pillaging continue.

Eric Siday's Ultra Sonic Perception is available on vinyl here, and here on CD.
Don Harper's Cold Worlds is available here on vinyl, and here on CD.

16 Jul 2014

Seas, Starry "Tyto Alba"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Way back on The Active Listener Sampler #9 I premiered "Cody", from the at the time upcoming album "Tyto Alba". Fast forward to July 2014 and that upcoming album has, um, come up.

Seas, Starry are an Aberdeen based six piece who are by and large unclassifiable. The term post-rock would almost certainly have been used a few years back, but we live in more enlightened times now, times in which Seas, Starry's evocative instrumental rock can exist solely on its own merits, without the need for a parent scene to attach it to.

Pulling from all sorts of influences - shoegaze, psychedelia, drone, krautrock, oh, all right, post-rock too then - "Tyto Alba" is a lovely piece of work. Characterised by gorgeous, soaring waves of guitars which feedback and squall deleriously with fluid and organic rhythms that lack the rigid, mathematical precision of their predecessors these are songs that build to massive, glacial crescendos in a slightly out of focus fashion which only enhances its otherwordly beauty.

Album centrepiece "Silfur" does have more than an air of Mogwai to it (which is welcome), but it's the more upbeat and riffy spacerockers like "Space Boat" that best set out their own stall.

The band are already at work on a second album which we've been told will see a change of direction, making "Tyto Alba" an essential snapshot of a young band at their most fertile and creative.


"Tyto Alba" is available digitally here, and on vinyl here.

"крыла обречени" - a complimentary album of early tracks and demos is available free here.

Full stream here:

15 Jul 2014

Nick Nicely "Headwindaheadwind"

Back in March I received an excitable (and exciting) e-mail from Nick Nicely, introducing himself (as if we wouldn't know who is - sheesh) and telling us enthusiastically about his newly recorded album. Naturally we were very keen to let you know about it immediately, but Nick and his label requested that we keep it under our hat for the time being. I've always looked rubbish in hats, so I was very pleased to see an official announcement starting to work its way around various sites, leaving me free to do my bit to spread the good word.

"Space of a Second" is the name of the album and it's due for release in September on Lo Recordings.

Preceding that (and out right now) is "Headwindaheadwind", a master class that shows that little has changed since the release of "Hilly Fields" in the early eighties. Nick is still the master when it comes to the unlikely fusing of psychedelic pop and electronica, with an implicit understanding that no matter how good something sounds (and the production here is impeccable as you'd expect), it's nothing without a killer tune, and the melody here is Nick at his wistful, pastoral best.

The fact that Nick is recording and releasing new material is reason enough in and of itself for celebration, the fact that it is this good is almost too much to believe.

Download it here.

White Fence "For The Recently Found Innocent"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

While the string of collaborations we expected after "Hair" may not have eventuated yet (hardly surprising given both artist's prolific and varied output), Ty Segall was impressed enough with the songs Tim Presley had lined up for the next White Fence project that he insisted on jumping into the producer's chair.

A follow up of sorts then but this is much more "Cloud Nine" than "The Traveling Wilburys", with both artist's roles clearly defined, and it would be entirely fair to say that both can claim equal shares in the success of "For The Recently Found Innocent". While the songs and performances are more or less all Presley's own (and rank among his best in both regards) Segall's production and guidance provide a perfect vehicle for getting Presley's infectious melodies into your ears with the minimum of fuss but maximum impact.

The hissy lofi aesthetic that White Fence albums have been previously cloaked in is noticeably absent, replaced by a suitably vintage analogue warmth that allows the melodic charms within the perfect environment in which to shine while looking knowingly and affectionately back to the contents of what must be a pretty fine record collection.

First single "Like that" is an irresistible, falsettoed Who homage that sounds like the very best Pete Townshend demo that you can imagine. "Sandra (When The Earth Dies)" goes all "Village Green Preservation Society" ("Arrow Man is pretty Kinky too). Other tracks touch on everything from liquid San Francisco psychedelia to crystalline folk-rock to late seventies U.K punk, all forged into exciting new/old shapes that make "For The Recently Found Innocent" not so much a homage to, but a peer of so many of those classic artists.

Hugely recommended.

Available here on vinyl, and here on CD.

14 Jul 2014

7" Singles Roundup - The Magnetic Mind / House of Fire / Dig Deeper

The Magnetic Mind "When The Morning Comes" b/w "The Mumbai Firefly"
Active Listener favorites The Magnetic Mind return with their second 7" for the Heavy Soul label, which easily matches the stellar quality of their debut. The a-side showcases a dramatic proto-prog sound with buzzsaw fuzz guitars, mad scientist classical organ runs and choral vocal breakdowns, all of which scream 1969 in the best possible way. B-side "The Mumbai Firefly" is potentially even better, employing wordless choral vocals with a bewitching eastern melody, and more of that mad cool organ work. This sucker will sell out quick so get in here:

House of Fire "The Keeper of The Doors" b/w "Drifting Sunward"
These guys are new to me, but if these two sides are anything to go by we'll be hearing a whole lot more from them soon. "The Keeper of the Doors" marries a chiming pentatonic guitar riff with a slight spy guitar twang to a relentless beat, peppered with cymbal splashes and a great, spine-tingling descending bassline chorus. This is really good stuff, and the b-side is pretty flash too, another moody opus with great tribal percussion and a general sense of looming ominousness.
Highly recommended.
7" and download available here:

Dig Deeper "May 3rd" b/w "Let Me Ride" 
Norwegian "mountain-rockers" Dig Deeper make appeallingly beardy sounds on this double a-sided release which nestles snuggly among the sounds of American bands like Band of Horses and particularly My Morning Jacket with whom they share a fondness for large, glacial guitars and wistful vocal melodies. "May 3rd" is a moody slow burner which works up a really nice head of steam and builds to a huge, dramatic crescendo. On the flip "Let Me Ride" is a more metronomic, propulsive rocker with nice swells of steel guitar and plenty of wide open spaces for some "Echoes" style sonar guitar blips.

13 Jul 2014

The Jayhawks "Sound of Lies" "Smile" "Rainy Day Music"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This fresh batch of Jayhawks reissues (loaded with previously unreleased bonus tracks) focuses on the three album period directly after the departure of Mark Olsen, half of the Jayhawks singer/songwriter partnership. The previous two albums are undisputed classics of the nineties, buoyed by two distinctively different songwriters whose voices harmonised in a way that didn't sound like anything else on the planet.

With Olsen gone, Gary Louris elected to carry on under the Jayhawks name, a decision which invariably led the public to expect more of the same, despite the sudden absence of half of the songwriting team and perhaps more importantly that distinctively odd and affecting voice.

The Louris steered Jayhawks started out strongly with "The Sound of Lies" abandoning the alt. country trappings of their earlier successes in favour of big shiny powerpop anthems. It's quite a departure, and Louris is to be congratulated for taking a brave new step where someone more tentative would have potentially been inclined to try and consolidate their earlier sound. Fans of Matthew Sweet and other contemporary power-poppers with big guitars will find much to love here, with anthemic single "Big Star" being a pretty blatant give away of Louris's ambtions and key influence for the album.

2001's "Smile" stepped even further away from the band's alt. country roots, but the decision to bring on bombastic producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd's "The Wall") didn't sit well with Louris's intimate songcraft. Unfortunately this is Louris's least memorable set of songs (the best of which are available on The Jayhawks Anthology "Music From the North Country") and the frequent use of an embarrassing drum machine, makes "Smile" an album that sounded dated even at the time of release, which hasn't become more palatable over the ensuing years. Frustratingly, the bonus tracks on this are comparatively strong, so inquisitive fans may still want to shell out for this.

"Rainy Day Music" was a welcome return to form after this brief mistep. A mostly acoustic album with strong CSN influenced harmonies and exceptional, direct songs like "Save It For a Rainy Day" and the latter day Byrdsy "Tampa to Tulsa" . Most critics tend to credit "Sound of Lies" as the strongest of these albums, but to my mind "Rainy Day Music" has the edge and is a real contender even compared to their earlier albums. Great bonus tracks too.

These welcome and extremely well put together reissues shine a light on an underappreciated period in the bands history leading up to Olsen's eventually return for the excellent but commercially underperforming "Mockingbird Time" . "Rainy Day Music" and "Sound of Lies" are essential, and if you're a fan you're going to buy "Smile" whatever I have to say about it.

Sound of Lies is available here.

Smile is available here.

Rainy Day Music is available here.

The Roaring 420s "What is Psych?"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Its unclear whether Dresden's Roaring 420s (previously reviewed here), are searching for an answer to the titular question here, or offering up their debut full length "What Is Psych?" as their definitive answer. Either way, "What is Psych?" is clearly psych of a vintage fashion - none of this effects laden shoegaze on show here.

Unfortunately the prominently displayed sitar featured on the cover appears only very briefly, used to excellent effect on "These Woods of Stone", which oddly ends up sounding like a solo Thurston Moore tune.

The dominant flavour is less trippy and mystical than the cover may lead one to believe, with the blossoming folk-rock jamming of San Francisco 1967 being recalled most often; jangly guitars, heaps of vintage organs, a few mild effects thrown in here and there, and unusually for the preceding elements, a whole heap of surf too, right down to the tempos, heavy use of tremelo and the precise lead guitar lines.

It's all extremely well done, with the earlier single "Blue Jay" being the initial ear grabber, with the bulk of the rest of album taking a little longer to establish itself.  "Yes I Am" is a stomping call and response dance party rolled into three minutes of peppy fun. "You Had To Learn It The Hard Way" has a vintage British R&B roll to it. Best of all are the tracks where the band stretch out and focus on creating mood, with the eight minutes of "The Tourist" rolling to a halt much too soon.

Vinyl and CD available here, as well as four streaming tracks to sample:

12 Jul 2014

Sam Asgari "Guru"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Norwegian Sam Asgari has a recent past as a producer in a more electronic vein, but saw the light recently when he discovered The Beatles' "Blue Jay Way", and his second album "Guru" is the first flowering of his full psychedelic immersion.

"Guru" is an album that has been shaped by listening to the masters - George Harrison, Donovan, Syd Barrett - but also by Asgari's own experiences traveling around India, the music of which is referenced frequently here.

Asgari's past work in the electronic field isn't completely left behind either, with tracks like the opener "Message" and "I am the Lotus Lord of Dance" being aural collages that integrate Asgari's sampling expertise without losing the ever present scent of patchouli.

"A classic encounter of the rock kind. The exploration of the aural landscape within, modernizes the visionary work of The Beatles and I. Be prepared to turn-off your mind." So says Donovan, whom Asgari has impressively managed to snaffle an endorsement from, and while the Don typically overplays his own hand a little, he does a fair job of summing up the appeal of "Guru". Tracks like "Child of the Autumn" could easily be from Donovan's own archives, and the Indian drones, backwards guitars and unerring melodic sense on display throughout makes this a total success in its intentions to continue on in a grand old tradition, without ignoring that which has come since.

If the idea of a more spiritual, Eastern influenced Dukes of Stratosphear appeals then welcome friend, you're not alone and you're very much in the right place.

Available in a limited run of 250 LPs with a lovely ornate, gatefold sleeve.


11 Jul 2014

Origami Arktika "Absolut Gehör"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Norwegian artist collective Origami Arktika have been around for the last twenty years or so but outside of their native land still remain somewhat of an enigma and mystery to the average listener. Described as playing a ‘mutated folk music’ (an apt description) their sounds covers freeform experimentation, electronica and psychedelic folk with layers of drones, found sounds and traditional song that translates into genuine beauty and wonder; albeit at times of a darker hue and reflecting a sombre and unsettling undercurrent. At once archaic, ancient and alchemic, Origami Arktika seem to come from another age, or at least walk between the ages. Their music appears timeless, part of their inner and outer landscape and deeply indebted to their natural surroundings.The press release from Silber Records accurately presents Origami Arktika as ‘a knotty time machine, hotwired by haystack-poles and pitchforks, glued together with cow dung, old snippets of song, unheard drones and tones’.

Opener ‘Ro Og Hamle’ is a freeform drone slow builder with percussion clattering and shaking to both disturbing and hypnotic effect. However ‘Bryggja Te Jol’ is where the album really lifts off; a harmonium drone keens over an empty landscape as vocalist Rune Flaten invokes a traditional folk ballad in his native tongue. Bass then starts to propel the song and sawing bowed strings come together to create a virtual maelstrom of a track. Cinematic and hugely evocative, make no mistake; this is widescreen music. ‘Háttalykill’s discordant plinks and thumps lead into an evocative folk lament; this is music hewn from the hills and lakes and reminds this listener of the psychogeographical exploits of the splendid Xenis Emputae Travelling Band in its sense of place and rural mysticism. ‘Folkestadvisa’, with its single, sustained organ note and multitude of layered vocals is almost ethereal; a choral folk song both gentle and powerful. At times the Norwegian folk idiom seems to resemble to the Gaelic and Scottish Western Isles laments; the traditional yet instinctive phrasing and sense of melancholy and yearning bears close relation. ‘Tora Liti’ is an acid folk procession, strings and tabla merging with bells and effects in this traditional song rearranged by Arktika in line with their own keen sense of custom and belief. Dulcimer shimmers and echoes throughout the shadows; there is something altogether pagan and otherworldly at work here that steps outside of modern music. It is both ritualistic and profound and is truly mesmerising in it sparse power. It is tempting to think of the landscape of the collective’s native region of Telemark soaking into their inspiration; the fjords, mountains, black skies and rain drenching their spooked muse.

‘Det Syng For Storegut’ by contrast begins with an almost jazz led bass line as xylophone and drums create a trance like rhythm over which ominous drones rumble like peals of thunder. Disturbing and thrilling; this is music that follows only its own path. Comparisons to Primordial Undermind, the Jewelled Antler Collective and Book Of Shadows are reference points but here Arktika are in their own unique groove. Bowed guitar and hushed vocals add to the brooding atmosphere, at once intense yet also hugely exciting and not unlike like finding yourself under a massive thunderstorm. This is experiential music. An eleven minute epic, the song holds the tension expertly throughout. This track feels like the album's lynchpin and contains the vital elements of Arktika, namely the organic and adventurous spirit that underlines their aesthetic and approach as well as their able grasp of dynamics and hugely affecting atmospheric soundscapes. ‘Skonde Deg Du Jente’ – Lurlokk’ ends the album with an (almost ) acapella traditional folk song. The sense of barren beauty and windswept landscape lingers long after however.

There is supposedly a myriad of players in Origami Arktika and the revolving door collective not only contain musicians but filmmakers and painters and poets. Yet this is a cohesive and standout album with its own identity and sense of unique purpose. Walk out into the storm; spend some time with Origami Arktika.

Available now in a lovely handmade sleeve from the splendid Silber Records.

10 Jul 2014

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young "CSNY 1974"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

A labour of love largely spearheaded by Graham Nash. This ornate box set aims to present new evidence in the case of a much maligned tour.

It has been widely accepted that CSNY weren't at their best on this 1974 tour, an opinion that the widely bootlegged Wembley Arena show does little to dispel, but this collection culled from multiple shows and constructed and sequenced as a representative show from the tour goes some way towards readdressing this balance.

Those expecting the smoothly harmonised, soft yacht-rock CSNY will be potentially disappointed, but fans of Young's ditch period will find much to enjoy here. Harmonies are shaggy. Voices (particularly those of Stills and Nash) are ragged. Lyrics are occasionally forgotten and stumbled over. But there's a ragged groove here that they rarely achieved (or aimed for) in the studio. It's also great to hear material from the CSN trio's uniformly excellent early solo albums sprinkled with those trademark harmonies, which even in roughly hewn shape tower over those of their contemporaries.

A brace of rarities makes this an even more compelling purchase for fans. Neil Young fans are particularly well served with two of his most coveted previously unavailable tracks "Traces" and the magnificent "Pushed It Over The End" (which Young refused permission to release on the CSN box set) finally seeing official release.

At three full discs this is a long set, but representative of the shows on the tour. There's also a single disc highlights package for the casual fan that bypasses the rarities and sticks with the hits - a bit of a waste of space to be honest, but the full set, rarities, oddities, warts and all is a necessary purchase for fans of any or all of these artists, most, but not all of whom were nearing the end of their golden patch.

The 3CD / DVD edition is available here.

The single disc esition is available here.

The Oscillation "Cable Street Sessions"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Following on from last year's excellent "From Tomorrow", comes this essential companion piece to that second full length. Where "From Tomorrow" dwelt in a swirl of effects laden psychedelia, and was very much a carefully planned and layered record, "Cable Street Sessions" is a live in studio effort that goes a long way towards demonstrating the life that these songs take on in front of an audience.

I'm generally not a fan of live albums. That's a sweeping statement, and there are (numerous) exceptions of course, but I often find live albums to be label product, full of weak facsimiles of the studio material, played faster, with more guitar solos and weak vocals. "Cable Street Sessions" proves to be one of these exceptions, with three of "From Tomorrow"s key songs revisited, and an inspired Deviants cover. While Demian Castellanos still pays noticeable attention to his pedal board, there's an extra propulsion here provided by the crack rhythm section of Tom Relleen and Valentina Magaletti, that when combined with the sparser production, gives these tracks an added push that is pleasingly at odds with the lysergic undertow of their album counterparts.  "All You Want To Be" is an infectious opener that filters their krautrock impulses through a squall of Spacemen 3 guitar, complete with an ominous, hypnotic pulse, while the Deviants "Somewhere To Go" is an inspired choice of cover, and fits the Oscillation's temperament like a glove.

While a four track E.P might sound like a fairly brief offering, the intensity of the lengthy performances contained therein makes for a fairly exhausting affair, which I suspect would be diluted if drawn out. Short but sweet, this paints the Oscillation in an entirely different, but complimentary light to their albums - one which will please existing fans, and likely draw in a few who didn't have the patience to pierce the lysergic fog of "From Tomorrow".

You can stream the whole E.P and order the Cardinal Fuzz vinyl 12" from here:

9 Jul 2014

Concerto For Wah Wah by Century Expanded

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Here's another excellent slab of psychedelic exploitation rescued from obscurity by Gear Fab Records. Unlike the Gear Fab release I reviewed a few weeks back, this is one that's had to gather word of mouth through reputation alone until this recent CD reissue (and this recent vinyl reissue), and the legendary status it has acquired among collectors turns out to be pretty much deserving.

Originally released in 1970, on Jimmy Curtiss' (The Hobbits) Perception label, "Concerto For Wah Wah" is exactly what it says on the label, and despite the novelty approach (hey, this is an exploitation record after all) is pretty damn great. As is the norm for these sorts of releases, no one really knows who the band members were, but they really cook here.

The side-long "Melodic Variations in D Minor" starts things off with what seems like a very carefully constructed opus that makes excellent use of Beatley, "Abbey Road" era guitar arpeggios with doomy descending basslines combined with a proto prog "Atom Heart Mother" sort of Floyd feel which sounds extremely English. The titular guitar effects make themselves known extravagantly, but whoever the guitar wrangler is on this track is carefully in service of the song which is something of a lost classic, with a great backwards guitar freakout towards the end that paves the way for a wah wahed vocal chorus which by all rights should be the worst sort of cheese, but is totally irresistible.

"Rhythmic Variations in E Major" on the other hand is a total jam-fest with a proto Doobie Brothers soul funk riff acting as launching pad for all sorts of experimentalism, exploring the textural qualities of the pedal, and its rhythmic possibilities. During its playtime it's extremely engaging, even if its improvised nature makes it less memorable in the long run than its predecessor.

Oddly enough there's also a short extra in the form of "Prelude", which seems to be a completely improvised violin instrumental, which sounds like three and a half minutes of cat strangulation (with little in the way of wah wah, or for that matter guitar).

Mad as a bag of hammers, and one hell of a lot of fun.

Available here.

Sadly the best track isn't available on Youtube, but the second side can be streamed here. Skip to around the 3.20 mark to avoid the diabolical violin torture:

Nick Grey & The Random Orchestra "You’re Mine Again"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Enigmatic singer and musician Nick Grey already has an illustrious and varied darkly psychedelic back catalogue that ranges from the sublime suicide note of solo effort ‘Thieves Among Thorns’, includes his collaborations with such major figures as Charlemagne Palestine and Martyn Bates (Eyeless In Gaza) and which ventures into more avant garde territory with the 48 Cameras collective. His new opus ‘You’re Mine Again’, credited to Nick Grey & The Random Orchestra, side steps into yet further new territory. Featuring the singer resplendent in velvet and make up on the sleeve, this image immediately differs from Grey’s more abstract cover images and photographs and indicates something of a different direction with this outing. Indeed, the songs contained herein have more of a psychedelic classic pop bent, albeit with myriad twisted angles and dark corners. Although still very much recognisably a Nick Grey album (the brooding, melancholic lyrics remain), this is an exciting and courageous delve into the man’s finely honed songwriting and torch song sensibilities. The juxtaposition of experimental inclination and pop beauty is both thrilling and hugely rewarding. Appropriately, these decadent and twilight paeans to heartbreak do come with a warning; the sleeve advises ‘please do not play this record in a state of romantic agitation’.

Opening with the single ‘You’re Mine Again’, a brief burst of laughter leads into a rich tapestry of twinkling acoustic guitars, analogue synths and Grey’s distinctive and emotive vocals. Scrapes and wails build the tension as one of the most twisted pop songs this side of Antony and The Johnsons unfolds; Nick Cave and Marc Almond take note. ‘My Love Affair with Might’ bounces along on an OMD style vintage keyboard riff that is at once catchy yet also tense and affecting. The overall sense of sound and orchestration that is presented is massive; this is Nick Grey imagined by Spector and Trevor Horn. ‘Heart of the Glacier’ is a Berlin era Bowie-esque brooding masterpiece. The forlorn recitation of ‘the body is bound to age, ambition is bound to fade some more, the heart is bound to fail and love is lost’ is recounted over swathes of icy synthesiser. Reminiscent of previous Nick Grey works such as Candlelight Eyes in its sombre, cold stateliness, the track then skips through some interesting sidesteps into unexpected prog keyboard flourishes and an epic ending that wouldn’t be out of place on a Scott Walker album. ‘Structure And Faith’ introduces slide guitar and accordion to the bubbling electronics to create a dramatic and truly beautiful torch song. Hints of Human League and a smattering of The Legendary Pink Dots permeate into the analogue tapestry though this remains a unique vision and very much Grey’s own. The sadness at the heart of much of Grey’s earlier material is still strongly evident here; indeed the orchestra of synths and choral voices only enhance this aspect. Forget your Patrick Wolfs and Lana Del Reys; this is the real deal.

‘Wounded, yet Feudal’ is a guitar led cry in the darkest of nights; Ronnettes style drums adding to the doomed yet defiant palette. At times reminiscent of the best of Mercury Rev, at others the electronic elegance of John Foxx this record should really be being hailed as a classic piece of work by the glossy music monthlies. If it can be heard by enough people, it will be. ‘The Wasp Lover’ walks on an air of glistening and ethereal strings and is nearest song here in sound to Grey’s masterpiece ‘Thieves among Thorns’ (which if you don’t already own seek out immediately). Sophisticated and utterly beautiful in its resigned melancholy, the mellotron finale only adds to the timelessness and heartrending power of this music. ‘In The Ravine’ is equally epic and floats on 80s style minor keys and arpeggios to create a mini masterpiece of melancholia. Indeed this album is just that; an epic, lush and ambitious production crammed full of velvet draped and wet eyed perfectly formed vignettes. 'Death of the Dogman’s acoustic Americana alters the pace somewhat though its cinematic and dramatic tendencies fit perfectly in context with the album as a whole and simply add another string to Grey’s bow and another colour to his dark rainbow. A defiant and surreal Julian Cope-esque spoken endpiece reintroduces the synths with breathtaking style and emotional power. It’s a hugely affecting moment and there are many on this album. Never crassly tugging the heartstrings or going for obvious torch motifs, it is the unexpected dramatic twists and turns in Grey’s music and his vulnerable yet passionate baritone that makes this an album for late, candlelit nights involving too much red wine. Opulent yet damaged, the album presents an entirely new form of torch song; one that holds experimental and fiercely individual touches and yet also weeps over some of the most unique, human and truly alive music you will hear this year (or any year for that matter). ‘Enchantee’, as if with this in mind, returns to a more traditional French chanson to close the record, heartbreakingly sung by Sarah Maison.

This album cannot be recommended highly enough. One can also not pin it down in words or do justice to the sheer creativity and beauty contained here; you’ll just have to take my word for it. It is random at times, it is orchestral at others, it is Nick Grey through and through. Your life will be richer for owning this album; light a candle, pour another glass of your chosen poison and lose your heart in ‘You’re Mine Again’.

Available now from Milk And Moon Recordings in a beautiful gatefold CD sleeve or as a download from Nick Grey's Bandcamp site.