30 Nov 2014

Album Review "Native North America (Vol. 1) Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Just when you think that reissue culture has reached saturation point, something like this comes along to prove that there are still fantastic treasures to be unearthed which have been heard by very, very few.

Canadian musicologist Kevin "Sipreano" Howes had been collecting the excruciatingly rare music of North America's Aboriginal people for fifteen years already when he was given the green light to curate this collection by Light in the Attic, who - let's be frank - know a good thing when they see it.

Subtitled "Aboriginal Folk, Rock & Country 1966-1985", this collection collects rare material from a range of North America's best indigenous songwriters, which was largely ignored by the mainstream press at its time of release.

Howes hit the road to track down as many of these performers as he could to try and trace their history for the 120 page hardcover book which houses these two discs, and is certainly as historically significant as the music contained within. Very few of these artists had any form of previously documented history, so Howes spent hours on the phone conducting interviews, and traveled extensively to remote areas, in the hopes of tracing the owners of names that he'd discovered on dusty private pressings and in the contents of public and private libraries.

The results of his labours are impressive indeed. The majority of these artists received very little support at the time their recordings were made, and no media coverage to speak of. Opportunities to record were scarce, but what did find its way onto tape is pretty great. Certainly a lot of it is filtered through a spectrum of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and the likes, but the songs themselves are often extremely personal and individualistic; Willie Dunn's "I Pity the Country" is anthemic protest which should have reached more ears at the time. Brian Davey's "Dreams of Ways" is devastating and wonderful. Lloyd Cheechoo's two offerings sound curiously like the Felice Brothers. And nestled amongst the predominantly folky and country rock arrangements are garage pop gems like Sugluk's "I Didn't Know", and best of all, The Chieftones, whose "I Shouldn't Have Did What I Done" mixes tribal, Hank Marvin atmosphere, with moody garage-folk and an instant earworm chorus.

Even better news is that the "Volume 1" addendum to the title isn't speculative, with Howes currently at work on a similar collection which will cover the lower 48 States, and further volumes covering North America planned. It'll be hard to imagine them beating this though, a definitive statement, and one with a wide reaching appeal.

Double CD set with hardcover book, available here.
Vinyl version available here.
Check out the excellent trailer here:

28 Nov 2014

Album Review: Emily Jones "Autumn Eye"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Emily Jones should need no introduction to those who take notice of the current crop of wyrd folk artists casting their own distinctive shadows over these Isles. Her collaboration with the splendid Rowan Amber Mill 'The Book of the Lost', a paean and perfect evocation of 1970s folk horror TV and film, was a firm favourite of this listener (and was in my Active Listener Top Ten of 2013). The daughter of folk legend Al Jones, Emily has been casting her spell-like songs around the more haunted corners of the web for a number of years and was most recently seen featuring on the excellent ‘Songs from the Black Meadow’ compilation whilst also performing at that album’s launch. Indeed, her muse fits perfectly with this particular surrounding, a collection filled with both dark, rural folk and hauntological electronica; genres which Jones embraces but does so in her own unique and enchanting manner.

It is from the ‘Songs from the Black Meadow’ album that opener 'Dark Moss and Coldheart' is taken, a gothic folk lament of ghostly harmonies and flanged guitar that is equally chilling and utterly beautiful. There is darkness at heart here, a fairy tale that may not necessarily have a happy ending, yet the song is both truly beguiling and bewitching. It is a hugely impressive opener and, when the guitar and keyboards appear in choral unison, it is a hair on the back of the neck moment. ‘Bed of Mud' is a baroque, piano and harpsichord led folk song in the style of Trees 'The Garden of Jane Delawney', Emily’s' vocals easily fitting into a canon that contains that band’s Celia Humphris, Mellow Candle's Alison O'Donnell and Steeleye's Maddy Prior. This is intricate, delicate and evocative chamber music that brings to mind the more pagan and spooked side of 1970s and 80s TV programming such as ‘Moon Stallion’ or ‘The Owl Service’, as well as the gothically tinged Victoriana of the Czech new wave classics ‘Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders’ or ‘Morgiana’. 'Hermegant and Madaline' is a fine piece of musical witchcraft, an acoustic led, dark acid folk masterpiece. Shades and echoes of 70’s prog folk act Renaissance and perhaps also the subtle orchestral stylings of troubadour Duncan Browne filter through the layered harmonies of the chorus, evoking a timeless quality and atmosphere.

Indeed, there is something sepia tinged about the music contained herein, it is from another time (or perhaps exists outside of time). It has a curiously English melancholy and haunted soul quite out of step with the modern world and pleasingly so; this album is an escape, a portal into a Cornish landscape that contains folklore, doomed and dark romance and a genuine sense of wonder. It is a delight that music of this type and calibre is being released today quite removed and distinct from the mass produced and homogeneous world of Spotify or iTunes. Indeed the very nature of this recording, encased in a lovingly handmade sleeve adorned with a single leaf and containing a hand printed disc enveloped in golden paper, is a defiant and gorgeous dedication to a rustic and truly creative DIY ethic.

‘Light Appearing's picked guitar and yearning keyboard passages are golden, sunset sounds, evoking hazy memories of years long gone by. 'Pieces Of people' is a wistful, harmonium woven ballad, an autumnal melancholic air permeating its gentle waltz. 'Tethered' too has shades of early winter's fading light in its glistening twilit shimmer, chilly piano cascading through the warmth of Jones' vocals. Not unlike a folksier version of some of the more reflective tracks such as ‘Wintertime Love' from The Door's psych masterpiece ‘Waiting for the Sun’, these are lovely, finely crafted symphonies filled with an enticing nostalgia. 'Bright Shadows' completes the album in properly haunting fashion, Emily's echoed vocals gracefully and gradually merging with the spectral string section in one of the album’s many outstandingly beautiful moments.

This is a very special album indeed. Timeless and strange, it stands as a testament to Emily's singular artistic vision and her dark yet bewitching song craft; she is truly one of this island’s hidden folk treasures, waiting to be found. Take my word for it, you need this album but it is limited so do not hesitate; take a look through an Autumn Eye.

CD & Download available via the Bandcamp widget below or here.

27 Nov 2014

Album Review: Odessey & Oracle "& The Casiotone Orchestra"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

There's been a surprising, but noticeable resurgence in baroque pop lately. I find it strangely comforting in this day of i-phones and IDM, that there are an increasing number of young folk reaching for oboes and harpsichords to decorate their tunes. One such group of young folks is the Lyon based trio of Fanny L'Heritier, Alice Baudoin, and Guillaume Medioni, trading under the name of Odessey & Oracle.

You could be forgiven for assuming a case of influence being worn on one's sleeve. The truth of the matter however, is that while the Zombies and other sixties baroque-poppers have provided some noticeable inspiration here, Odessey & Oracle are inspired by the freedom that the late sixties represented, and rather than being restricted by revivalism, have appropriated and updated that sense of daring spirit. This allows for a wider range of influences which include artists as diverse as Bach, the Dirty Projectors , Brian Wilson , White Noise , Moondog and Robert Wyatt. Recorded with the help of a dozen musical accomplices (the titular Casiotone Orchestra), the results are an impressively, and often exhaustingly, varied selection of songs which will likely leave your head reeling. One moment it's a gorgeous piece of baroque pop balladry, then it's chamber strings, and a moment later, electro-pop.

This restless approach does require a few listens to allow the listener to adjust to its scope, but ensures that surprises continue to present themselves at an alarming and seemingly never-ending rate.

Not one for those looking for baroque pop in the strictly traditional, retro sense then, but the adventurous listener with an ear for the ornate will find this contemporary update to be both rewarding and surprising.

Available here.

Hear a five track sampler here:

26 Nov 2014

Album Review: The House of Love "Live at the Lexington 13:11:13"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Since reforming in 2003 with three quarters of the 'classic' line up (and crucially, the core creative duo of Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers), seminal U.K indie band The House of Love have done things at their own pace, without the external (i.e record company) pressures that led to Bickers leaving the band in 1989. Older, and wiser, the two studio albums released since this reformation have been low-key events with a subtlety and maturity that is admittedly less exciting than their first two self titled albums, but extremely rewarding in their own way. Parallels can certainly be drawn with the Go-Betweens reformation and subsequent albums.

Which brings us to "Live at the Lexington", recorded and filmed last year in an intimate London venue as a memento for the band. This sense of things being done because they want to do them (rather than being told to do them by their label) translates nicely into an enjoyably relaxed session, with a focus on material from the Chadwick / Bickers era.

There are plenty of fan favourites; "Shine On", "Christine" and "Destroy the Heart" are all revisited in a refreshing fashion, but more recent material nestles comfortably among the acknowledged peaks without seeming any the poorer for it. Chadwick's voice is still in pretty good shape, with Bickers' backing vocals providing support when necessary. And Bickers' guitar work is sensational throughout; varied, impressive and never flashier than it needs to be, it's never sounded better.

The DVD content (the full show as featured on the CD), is excellent too, with none of the flashy camera cuts often associated with concert films. The cameras seem to be there to document, rather than create the excitement, which with a performance as compelling as this is just fine.


CD and region-free DVD available here.

25 Nov 2014

The Active Listener Sampler 26 Available Now

This month's sampler with another piece of eye-catching artwork by Martin Ross Butler (www.martinrossbutler.com ) is available now. Free / name your price download below....

1. Paperhead - Eye For Eye 02:50
2. The Baudelaires - Where You Go 03:25
3. Jouis - All That Is And Is One 06:00
4. Shinkiro - The Formula For Eternal Life 03:59
5. Moonsicles - Crystal Spy 05:32
6. United Bible Studies - Clay In My Hand 04:01
7. The Carousels - My Beating Heart 04:11
8. Julie's Haircut - Karlsruhe 06:42
9. Concretism - Tesseract 03:57
10. Sam Cohen - Kepler 62 04:27
11. Sounds of Sputnik - Light Scheme (Mind Movies Remix) 05:16
12. Gareth Davies - Thistledown Lodging 04:10
13. The Unseen - Her Father's Voice 07:26
14. Human Greed - World Fair Theme 04:27
15. Ummagma - Live And Let Die 04:59
16. Mark Fry - Aeroplanes 05:03
17. The Familiars - Sons Of Clovis 08:25

24 Nov 2014

Album Reviews: Moonsicles "Creeper"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I get all sorts of things turning up in the post for review, but I think I can safely say that this is the first with a cover adorned with a hand painted, amputee unicorn. Needless to say my curiosity was piqued. And this was before I investigated further and discovered that Moonsicles had eschewed the standard-practice album release show in favour of a full play through of the album with accompanying yoga session.

The press release describes a band assembled from a long lineage of adventurous and experimental Austin outfits (the Weird Weeds, Dana Falconberry, Some Say Leland, McMercy Family Band, Pillow Queens, Woven Bones, Ichi Ni San Shi, Suspirians, No Mas Bodas ), brought together by a common, exploratory bond. That being the case, it's impressive just how melodic and accessible this rather lovely album is.

I've rarely heard a band choose a more appropriate moniker than Moonsicles. Shela Scoville's keyboards provide a chilly, kosmische wash which evokes lonesome lunar winds, with the rhythm section of Carolyn Cunningham and Lindsey Verrill settling into a glacially slow, processional pace which suggests an alien sense of gravity. Acting as the perfect foil is Aaron Russell, who's chiming guitar parts play a key role in establishing a sense of warmth for the listener to connect with - a human element in a mysterious, alien environment.

There's a definite post-rock flavor permeating things, but with a refreshing lack of the formulaic, crescendo-building, loud / quiet / loud schtick. Instead, I'm reminded more of the desolate, deliberate desert-scapes of Earth's "The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull", albeit with Scoville's vintage synths making this sound considerably less Earth-bound.


Limited edition of 100 CDs in handpainted sleeves available here.

E.P Review: Soft Peaks "Altocumular"

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

This Baltimore power pop group mines a musical vein you've all heard before, with influences like the Flamin’ Groovies and Big Star worn plainly on their sleeves. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because when this sort of melodic, hard-edged music is played and sung as well as it is here, then it’s a welcome addition to the power pop pantheon. The songs have simple structures and “Everybody Wants Her” is an amusing song about other guys wanting the singer’s girl, with funny lyrics I won’t quote here. Suffice it to say that this is an enjoyable and short release with well-crafted songs from a talented group. Rather than play spot the influence, I invite you to check out the band’s music here:

22 Nov 2014

Album Review: The Carousels "Love Changes Like The Seasons"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Markus from Sugarbush Records has been busily at it again, sorting the wheat from the chaff so that we don't have to, to find us another jangly treasure.

The Carousels are a Scottish troupe, but don't let that fool you into thinking that "Love Changes Like The Seasons" isn't the most gorgeous example of sunshiny Californian jangle this side of The Junipers. Noticing a theme here? Yep, Markus sure can pick them, and for anyone who has enjoyed previous Sugarbush releases, "Love Changes Like The Seasons" will be an extremely welcome addition to your household.

There seem to be a growing number of U.K based bands who are excelling at channeling the vibrant Cosmic American music of the Byrds and Gene Clark through a prism of U.K jangle ala The La's recently, and the Carousels roughly elbow their way to near the front of the queue with their first vinyl release. Made up of seven new tracks, and a selection of the best cuts from their earlier self released back catalogue, "Love Changes Like The Seasons" fits together in a remarkably snug fashion considering its 'bitsy' genesis.

Bypassing the purposefully retro approach of many of their peers, in favour of the knowingly informed approach of the likes of the See See, the material here is refreshingly timeless, with a sound that would be welcomed arms open in 1968, 1990 or right now without sounding incongruous.

It's at its best when its infused with melancholia; "My Beating Heart", and "Sound of My Own" being particularly fine examples, but works equally as well with a more muscular (albeit still jangly) approach as on "Marianne".

One for Santa's list, although I'd order before then as Sugarbush's limited press LPs have a habit of selling out at an alarming rate.

"Love Changes Like The Seasons" is available directly from the label here.

21 Nov 2014

E.P Review: French Boutik "Mieux Comme Ca"

Reviewed by Dedric Moore (Monta At Odds)

"Mieux Comme Ca" kicks off with a Krautrock groove with bouncing piano and organ that quickly gets accented by soaring female background vocals as the male lead delivers a straight-forward melody in French. Do I know what they are singing about? No. Does it matter? No. It’s catchy and infectious and shame on me for having poor French linguistics, right?

"End of the Line" is a mid-tempo indie-rock song that has hints of British Invasion but keeps its sonic qualities modern. Lots of strumming guitar and a great bass line on the breakdowns of the verses keep the song moving along gracefully. This leads to a very satisfying end to the song which rides the groove that keeps things simmering without wearing it out.

"La Vie En Couleurs" fits perfectly into my guilty pleasure of loving French Beat music. Hints of Stereolab are strongest here. But French Boutik skirt the synths and random chord pattern shifts that appear in a lot of Stereolab’s work. Guitars and vibes are front and center adding to the strong vocal melody that lends a lounge vibe to the mix.

"Tiptoes" is another French Beat groove that proves to be one of French Boutik’s strong points. The piano, organ and guitar lock into the groove with just enough groove to allow the bass and drums to swing heavily. "Tiptoes" builds nicely as the vocals climb above the mix and then ease back to let the horn stabs at the end finish off a great EP.

Pre-order here for a discounted price.

20 Nov 2014

Album Review: Junkboy "Sovereign Sky"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Brothers Rich & Mik Hanscomb have been recording together as Junkboy since 1999, with their latest "Sovereign Sky" being a particular treat of lovely, pastoral folkadelica. Stretching back through a lineage that includes the likes of Nick Drake, Tunng, and Candidate, the brothers Hanscomb create a relaxed atmosphere of bucolic charm, with a deep, melancholy undercurrent that gives "Sovereign Sky" added depth.

Here, the brothers are joined by several of their friends on strings, who increase the scope of the Hanscomb's songs exponentially, without losing the sense of intimacy that is key to their songs. I've seen Robert Kirby's arrangements for Nick Drake's songs used as a reference point for the resulting sound, but to my ears these strings have a much more dramatic effect.

And the songs themselves? Well, they're based in the contemporary U.K folk / singer/songwriter tradition, but the Hanscombs are open to stretching in whatever direction the song requires, whether that be the Beta Band meets "American Beauty" era Grateful Dead of "Salt Water", or the sunny, quirky Bossa Nova of "Belo Horizonte". This sense of adventure reminds me a lot of the approach of Field Music, although Junkboy's music has an unhurried grace about it that makes it sound like the perfect accompaniment to a Summer afternoon's nap in a gentle breeze in a field somewhere. Focus on the songs though, and you'll notice all sorts of intricate embellishments, and clever arrangement touches which promise that "Sovereign Sky" will continue to surprise and delight. Quite lovely.

Available December 1 from Enraptured Records.

19 Nov 2014

Album Review: The Paperhead "Africa Avenue"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'm generally a pretty patient person, but the wait since this Nashville group's previous release - 2012's "Pictures of her Demise" 7" (also on Trouble in Mind) has seemed interminable. The consistent bouts of excellence they'd previously unleashed upon us made it all too easy to forget that this very accomplished band are of an age where they've had other, equally pressing concerns - namely school.

Now that they've found their way into their twenties, they're back on the streets with "Africa Avenue", and the wait has been worth every second. Often compared to their peers the Sufis, the Paperhead are very much the Syd Barrett to the Sufis' Lennon/McCartney. And while a Barrett influence is not necessarily novel in and of itself, these lads are of the much harder to grasp early Floyd Barrett school, rather than the more often evoked, acid-addled, tortured genius of later years. Which means that if you love the quirky psych-pop of "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne", you're in for one hell of a ride here.

The Paperhead (are they still the Paperhead, or just Paperhead now?) are far from derivative though. They've spread their wings here to exponentially assimilate more influences than ever before, ranging from Krautrock rhythms to infectious, vintage pop-punk. Heck, "Mother May" even delves into an impeccable piece of Laurel Canyon country-pop with a weeping steel guitar of positively Garcia-esque proportions.

Most importantly though, the songs are impeccable examples of immediately memorable, hooky pop genius, which don't need to sacrifice their inherent quirkiness to achieve universal appeal. Tracks like "Eye For Eye" demonstrate a consistent grasp of the sort of lysergic pop craft that bands of the original freakbeat era could only sporadically capture on tracks like "My Friend Jack", which are now seen as classics of not only the genre, but the era itself. So naturally, given the opportunity, you're going to want to get in on a whole album of that.

"Africa Avenue" is certainly the Paperhead's hookiest, most direct release to date, channeling the sonic adventurousness that occasionally manifested in a slightly more challenging fashion on previous releases into immediately engaging and appealing psych-pop songs that are both comfortingly familiar and thrillingly unpredictable.

Quite probably the most fun and delightful release of the year.

"Africa Avenue" is available here, or directly from Trouble in Mind Records.

18 Nov 2014

Album Review: Gareth Davies "Spirit Garden"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Welsh guitarist / singer-songwriter Gareth Davies may come from a background of heavy metal, but apart from the occasional flourish or guitar trill, there's little to indicate that this background has had any effect on his debut solo album "The Spirit Garden".

Mystical, wyrd-folk with that slightly out of sync quality peculiar to Welsh psychedelic dabblers, "The Spirit Garden" is a quietly confident debut that relies entirely on the strength of Davies' songwriting, vocals, and acoustic guitar playing to carry it. A big burden, but one that the intriguing nature of Davies' compositions can easily handle.

Davies' double tracked vocals reach out to the listener just enough to retain one's rapt attention throughout, without divulging too many of the mysteries inherent in his poetic lyrics. Similarly, Davies' guitar tone is warm and inviting throughout, with intricate embellishments and syncopations which skirt around obvious outcomes to draw the listener in.

An unbroken mood is quickly established, with Davies conjuring an impressively mind-expanding atmosphere with a simple set of tools which proves the old adage of 'less is more', journeying into the mystical without the assistance of studio trickery.

Lovely stuff. Fans of our old faves James McKeown and the Kitchen Cynics will be right into this I would imagine.

Austrian readers can catch Gareth on tour between 17-22 November. Dates and info here.

CD, digital and full stream available here:

17 Nov 2014

Album Review: Heaven’s Gateway Drugs "Apropos"

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson (The Red Plastic Buddha)

As a practitioner and a fan of psychedelic music I am simply blown away by the reach and variety of our current psychedelic cosmos. What for most of my lifetime was a dormant seed of a musical genre, is now a vast and wondrous garden of psychotropic sonic delights. In this current golden age, one might rightly expect such historical bastions as San Francisco and Austin, Texas to be represented. But when you see a small Midwest city such as Ft. Wayne, Indiana throwing down in decided style – you know those seeds planted long ago were sown far and wide.

If you’re not aware of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, consider yourself late to an awesome party. The band has just released their second record, "Apropos", and it’s a wonderful follow up to 2013’s "You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs".

On "Apropos", the band has a wonderful knack for blending both their influences and dark and light elements into a wonderful sonic trip that is at once strange and familiar. The best psychedelic music is timeless, not beholden to any stylistic rule, and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs completely understand this. The songs are at turns creepy, swinging, insanely melodic, well-crafted, innocent and perhaps even a little dangerous.

On the opening track "Read Between the Lines", Derek Mauger sounds a bit like a carnival barker welcoming us to his paisley circus. I’m a huge fan of vocal melody and I love the singsong quality of this opener. "Gone to Ground" follows up with a sinister vibe and one can’t help but be impressed with the production as the "Kashmir"-like guitar starts its ascent on the outro section. Title track "Apropos" is a great single and an excellent calling card for the group. Blending catchy with a certain subtle creepy, this level of psych pop tunefulness reminds me of what would happen if Syd Barrett took on the riff from "Ballroom Blitz". "Love/ Hate" follows with a bit of a down tempo feel that ends in a melotron swell and repeated verse. Tempo shifts again for the ever-catchy "Underwater." You’ll swear you’re at a Los Angeles party some summer night in 1968, having drinks while the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band jams in the other room. The excellent "Six Steps" is next and that singsong vocal melody is back, riding the strutting rhythm section and a strumming guitar that sounds like an alarm clock warning you of something gone wrong. ‘When I walk away, I’ll take six steps back from you’. "Secrets" is maybe my favorite song on the record, reminding me very much of Arthur Lee and Love at their most together. 12-string guitars and reverbed drums create a beautiful mood piece. "What it’s Like to Die" is the penultimate song and it bops along with a near surf party feel. The record closes strong with "Fall Back Down Again", a triumphant crescendo of psych pop perfection that forms a perfect closer for this terrific record.

Heaven’s Gateway Drugs are the kind of band that every writer likes to take on, as they are still a bit obscure. But their music is so strong, so good that one simply cannot wait to share them with their friends. I’ve done my part – now you do yours.

Ladies and gentlemen – Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. ‘It’s so apropos.’

CD, download and full stream here:

16 Nov 2014

"Forever Changing" Free Download Available For a Limited Time

Back in 2013 we asked some of our favourite artists to cover tracks from Love's "Forever Changes" to celebrate the Active Listener's second birthday.

We're now making "Forever Changing" available as a free download for a limited time, so grab it below while you can!

Album Review: Pink Floyd "The Endless River"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I had absolutely no intention of writing about "The Endless River" on here before I'd listened to it. I figured that all of the mainstream rags would be talking about it plenty, but the truth is, I'm so pleasantly surprised by it, that I feel compelled to briefly share an appreciation of it.

I'll presume that you're all familiar with the backstory, namely that these tracks all originate from jam sessions dating back to "The Division Bell" sessions, and that Gilmour and Mason have decided to revisit them to provide a fitting swansong for Rick Wright.

"The Division Bell" to my ears at least, has dated rather badly (although not so much as "A Momentary Lapse of Reason"). Relentlessly downbeat and overblown, I had no expectation that scraps from these sessions could provide as enjoyable a listening experience as "The Endless River" offers.

Gilmour and Mason have obviously spent a lot of time overdubbing, mixing, and whipping these pieces into shape, and they've done a surprisingly great job. They're remarkably well structured for pieces that began life as off the cuff jams, and are surprisingly varied considering how formulaic and lacking in spontaneity many would lead us to believe the Floyd have become.

The band are fortunate to have been left some excellent pieces of Wright's keyboard work to play with, and while there are definite nods to moments from the band's past (particularly "Shine On.." and bits of "The Wall"), his pieces provide an excellent launching pad for Gilmour's fluid guitar work, which is as graceful and lyrical as ever, and Mason's drumwork is as solid as we've come to expect.

Those expecting another classic album need to adjust their expectations to meet the scope of the album, but those approaching with a more open mind are likely to be as pleasantly surprised as I was. is it perfect? Of course not. The one vocal track is a major miscalculation. There are brief moments of atmosphere that could be lifted directly from a cheap Walmart Yoga CD. The sleeve looks like an eighties Marillion reject. And several Kenny G style guest appearances make me grit my teeth. But the remaining 95% is so much better than it could, and indeed should be, providing a graceful and understated sense of closure to a career that never quite felt right bowing out with the "The Division Bell"s bombastic sense of grandiosity.

"The Endless River" is available here on CD, deluxe CD and vinyl.

Album Review: Voyag3r "Doom Fortress"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This one probably should have made its way into our Halloween coverage but never quite got there. Dertroit trio Voyag3r (that's pronounced Voyager 3) are the latest in a long line of Carpentercore practitioners to find their way to us, and are certainly a cut above the majority.

John Carpenter devotees often struggle to add that little something of their own identity when constructing their own fuzzy VHS soundtrack homages, perhaps for fear of treading too far from the path they're attempting to evoke. Voyag3r however are more adventurous than most, and aren't mere replicators. While their arsenel of vintage synths and chunky, tube amplification certainly point towards a certain time in the mid to late eighties where post-apocalyptic cyborgs were the coolest thing out, "Doom Fortress" rocks a whole lot harder than any of the trashy original soundtracks that inspired it. If it wasn't for the insistent vintage synths you could be excused for thinking the intro for "Doom Fortress Escape" was an early Megadeth recording, palm-muted guitars and all. And the drums, when present, are enormous behemoths. This being the case, it took me a couple of listens to acclimatise and allow myself to admit that Aaron Greene's thrashy guitar parts actually mesh amazingly well with the vintage keys and sequencers. And those vintage keys are pretty great. After a few pensive "Halloween" style moments on opener "Summoning the Forgotten One", Steve Greene settles into a solid sci-fi / action groove that conjures images of a loincloth clad Dolph Lundgren  trekking across a desolate, post-apocalypse wasteland.

So, a little different to the sort of horror-synth material that we often cover here, but every bit as worthy.

Vinyl, CD, cassette, download and stream all available here:

15 Nov 2014

Album Review: Foxygen "...And Star Power"

Reviewed By Tom Sandford

There has always been a certain mystique surrounding the double album. "Blonde On Blonde"; "The White Album"; "Quadrophenia"; "Here, My Dear"; "Songs in the Key of Life"; "Physical Graffiti"; "Exile On Main Street"; "Zen Arcade" – these are respected pillars of 20th Century popular music; towering achievements, triumphant Grand Artistic Statements, lauded for visionary panache and creative brilliance. To become lost in the four sides of a cursorily impenetrable double album was – and still is, for that matter – an intensely personal experience…shared by all (one of the great paradoxes in rock music). These beloved, epic albums constitute musical epochs in rock mythology, and righteous rites of passage in one’s personal history.

And so we are presented with Foxygen’s latest "…And Star Power", an obvious homage to these ageless epics. The real question here, however, is whether it’s a grand tip of the hat to them, or just one big fuck-you. Ultimately, "…And Star Power" might be better characterized as an anti-epic: while maintaining a façade of grandiosity and ambition consistent with the aforementioned Grand Artistic Statements, those elements are deliberately undermined, or openly mocked.

A quick scan of the song titles reveals at least the possibility of grand ambition, thematic cohesion and requisite pomposity: "Star Power Airlines", "Star Power I: Overture"; "Star Power II: Star Power Nite"; "Star Power III: What Are We Good For" and "Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh". Sounds impressive, huh? In reality, however, "Star Power Airlines" is a throwaway three-chord wank – the kind of mindless, goes- nowhere power-chording riffage your first band would play at jams when everybody was hammered enough to think they were The Who. It’s hilarious enough, I guess. Once or twice. The four-part "Star Power" is really just a disjointed mess. There’s no discernible thread to the songs, and the band couldn’t be bothered to even come up with the kind of smoothly edited transitions and crafty sequencing that made the trip through "The White Album" so compelling. No, here it’s all just a big smashup at the corner of Irony Street and Whateverism Avenue.

Elsewhere, Foxygen’s truly puzzling habit of nicking riffs and melodies of familiar songs (something that also marred their previous album, "We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic", to a degree) is on full display here. I suppose someone thought it the epitome of cleverness to rip off the melody from Little River Band’s "Lonesome Loser" ("How Can You Really") but I simply don’t get the gag. Other pillaged acts include Skip Spence, The Beatles, Bob Dylan – you get the idea. Worse yet is the truly lackadaisical nature of the playing. An ostensibly nice bit of Rundgren-inspired pop writing, "How Can You Really" is completely undermined by in-your-face sloppiness. Look, I get the lo-fi ethic. I do not get desultory execution that reeks of self-sabotage.

Oh, and about the presentation of this as a double album? A completely gratuitous gesture, I’m sorry to say. Clocking in a just over 81 minutes, the entirety of this album could have easily fit onto one CD if they had cut even a few seconds from a pointless noise like "Freedom II". But nope, they just had to push it past 80 minutes to make it a double CD. All in all it’s just another brick in Foxygen’s phony wall.

Available on CD and vinyl.

13 Nov 2014

7" Reviews: You Are The Cosmos Releases - Batch #2

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

So, that first batch of 7" singles from You Are The Cosmos was pretty spectacular, as I'm sure you'll all agree? Well, the other four have just arrived, so here's a live blow by blow account of them as they're playing.

Fairfield Parlour "Emily" / "Soldier of the Flesh"
A lot of folks seem to write off Kaleidoscope once they'd changed their name to Fairfield Parlour. People seem to think that the name switch and signing to Vertigo signaled a switch to bombastic prog rock, but the truth is that apart from relying a little more heavily on melotron, the material from "From Home to Home" is a natural continuation from Kaleidoscope's "Faintly Blowing", and a number of those who have taken the time to listen will agree that it's probably a little better. The two tracks on this 7" are both taken from "From Home to Home", and are a pretty good starting point for those who need convincing. The A-side "Emily" is a killer, with a dramatic, emotive vocal hook, and lyrics that make "Eleanor Rigby" sound like a cheery knees-up. 'Tis true that if you already own a copy of the album, you will already have these tracks, but as an artifact, this is essential. It's a lovely sounding pressing, and a beautiful, textured gatefold sleeve that will be a collector's item before you know it.

Josh Rouse "Easy Street" / "City Blues" / "The Clear Coast"
Next is this three track E.P of tracks from Josh Rouse recorded in 2006, and previously only available on a very limited edition fan-club type CD. Up until now I had Rouse written off as a little dull, but these tracks have made me readdress this perhaps hasty judgement. "Easy Street" is the best of them, with an absolutely gorgeous twelve string guitar jangle that makes the Byrds lover in me all warm and gooey inside. "The Clear Coast" isn't too far off either with a more melancholy, summery Teenage Fanclub vibe that has me turning the record back over rather than reaching for the next one. So, with words eaten, I will be reinvestigating the Josh Rouse back catalogue, but one more spin of this first..

Ora "Seashore" / "You"
Ora now, with two tracks from their impossible to find self titled debut (and sole) album, from 1969. Excellent psych-folk that reminds me a little of those wonderful new upstarts The Lords of Thyme, Ora really should have had a bit more luck than they did if these two tracks are anything to go by. "Seashore" is a fabulously swinging piece of folk/jazz with nimble Bert and John style guitar work, multilayered vocals, and just the right helping of the very early John Martyn's skip-along charm. Pretty great. B-side "You" is a little more melancholy, with lovely, jazzy outbursts from the rhythm section and some eastern sounding fret-buzz for a little touch of the exotic.Dammit, I'm going to have to try and find the whole album by these three. Typically great presentation too, which includes a reproduction of Jamie Rubinstein's hand-written vocal charts for "You".

Disco Pantera Vol. 1
And I'm not entirely sure what this last one is. I'm under the impression that it's a collection of tracks from three unknown 70s / 80s bands; Antenna, Park Cheese and Fleeman. If that's the case, they're certainly worthy of rescue and reissue, as they're strangely contemporary sounding examples of what the label (accurately) calls freak-disco-psych. Pitchfork will be all over this if they hear it, and fans of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti should make sure they grab a copy too.

So, a mighty fine first eight releases that will continue to receive a lot of airplay here at Active Listener HQ. I'm curious whether You Are The Cosmos can top this batch of releases.

These can be ordered here, and you can check out tracks from all of these releases on You Are The Cosmos' Youtube channel here.

Album Review: Carsick Cars "3"

Reviewed by Kent Whirlow

There's been a vibrant indie-rock scene building in China for some years now, primarily in Beijing and Shanghai, but also with some talented bands from other areas. One of the most popular outfits, and for very good reason, is Carsick Cars from Beijing. Formed in 2005, they've become both very influential to, and well-respected by their peers.

They've released three records to date and this is their most recent, their third, the aptly-titled "3". It is the first record with the third line-up of the three-piece band, the only consistent member being bandleader, guitarist, and vocalist Zhang Shouwang (sometimes also translated as Shou Wang.) On this record, he is joined by He Fan on bass and Houzi on drums.

Released in February of 2014, this has resonated with me and grown to become one of my favorite records of this year. The Western influence is unmistakable; that the band has an affinity for Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth is quite obvious, but these guys are not simply churning out some second-rate copycat material. They have managed to create a very original sound. "3" was recorded in New York City, and interestingly, co-produced by Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 and Hamish Kilgour of The Clean.

The vocals are a mix of English and Chinese. While this may not appeal to all listeners, I quite enjoy it. As I don't speak or understand Mandarin, it adds an element of mystery to the whole listening experience.

"Wild Grass" kicks off the album and wastes no time getting down to business. The bass lines are infectious, the drumming is intricate and the guitar work is excellent. These are three talented musicians, but what stands out is how well the musicians play off of one another. A very casual listen may mislead one to think this is just average indie rock, but that is certainly not the case.

"The Best VPN So Far", with its unusual title, starts to reveal a more experimental side of the band. Fortunately, these are not standard verse/chorus/verse songs; the band takes the listener on a rewarding adventure with many pleasant surprises along the way. One of the things that makes this record stand out is that it stands up to repeated listenings; I have not tired of it after several months of repeated play. The guitarist really has a knack for capturing feedback and channeling it into something beautiful and powerful. He's a fine player.

"15 Minutes Older", sung in English here, is one of the more accessible tracks. It brought a smile to my face when my four-year-old daughter starting singing along "No More!" to it in the car the other day. It's a catchy tune. Here's a great clip of it being played "live in the studio".

"Reaching The Light" starts off with a jagged beginning and launches into a melodic piece and you can really hear how tight the playing is between the members. There are some great effects pedals in use here. Each song is unique, yet the band clearly has a sound all of their own and the songs fit very well together.

"Wei Cheng" is a good example of how the drumming never gets boring. The drummer is doing a lot more than simply keeping time; he makes a significant contribution to the texture of the sound. Also evident are some nice harmony vocals. They really display a mastery of varying tempos throughout the songs, which keeps things interesting.

Also sung in English, "Midnight Driver" features some strong fuzz-guitar with a rich, thick sound. One thing that I really love about this record is how well it is mixed. Unlike so many records where the bass is simply lost, it really stands out in each song and the sound is all the better for that.

"Shelter Song" is more gentle track, sung in Mandarin, and while I admittedly have no idea what words are actually being sung, the delivery of emotions arrives intact. "Could You Be There" slowly builds momentum then breaks into an energetic song, with some inventive playing.

Also somewhat on the experimental side, "512" builds excitement with a galloping beat, and before long the listener is awash in a wild, though carefully calculated guitar freakout. Listening to this really makes me want to have the opportunity to see this band live someday.

Perhaps more than any other song on the record, "She Will Wait" proudly showcases the Velvet Underground influence. Clocking in at just under six minutes, the length of this song is just right; it really wouldn't have the same feeling had it been shortened.

The final track on the album, "White Song", begins with an interesting loop and I can't help but think of the opening to The Who's "Baba O'Riley" when I hear it. Of course, this is very different, but it recalls the way that Pete Townshend had cleverly programmed his famous synthesizer where it sounds repetitive on the surface, but gradually evolves and becomes increasingly complex as it progresses. Distorted vocals bleed in along with guitar, followed by thundering drums and things become increasingly intense. By the time the song ends, it is hard to believe that almost seven minutes have just passed.

The CD contains two bonus tracks, separated by three tracks of silence. First, there is another version of "15 Minutes Older", this time sung in Mandarin, and it is quite interesting to hear it in comparison to the earlier English version. The second bonus track is a longer version of "Wei Cheng".

It is a cracking good record and I'm happy to have it on my shortlist of 2014 favorites.

It was released in China on the independent Chinese label Maybe Mars, and Tenzenmen in Australia and is available via Bandcamp, Tenzenmen, and Far Out Distant Sounds.

11 Nov 2014

Album Review: Wand "Ganglion Reef"

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

I guess the first thing that you should know about Wand, is that they were signed to Drag City Records by Ty Segall, himself. And the second thing that you should know is that bandleader Cory Hanson has played with just about everybody on the LA garage/psych scene, including Mikal Cronin. So, those two things together, should let you know a little something about what to expect from this record.

That said, "Ganglion Reef" is an album that will throw you a couple of curveballs. It opens up with a blast of thick, hairy distortion that makes you think that you’re in for an album packed with acid-fuzz freakouts. But they simply use that place as a launching pad to take you on a ride through the world of psych and all of its beautiful permutations.

"Sender" opens the album with that big blast of fuzz that I mentioned. Big, fuzzy guitars… swirl around the stereo spectrum as the dreamy, slightly reedy high- tenor vocals carry you into and out of the caverns of reverb and fuzz that the band spins about. Think "Tomorrow Never Knows" meets Black Sabbath.

"Clearer" continues along the same lines, but the chorus breaks into more dreamy psychedelia, with Leslied vocals, floating around in a sea of atmospheric sound effects, giving you a hint that there is more coming your way than just heavy guitar arrangements.

"Broken Candle" drifts a little bit further away from the fuzz-out freakout of the first tune, with a stronger emphasis on the Hammond, before a gorgeous guitar break cuts through and takes you even farther out, man…

And while songs such as "Growing Up Boys" give you the acoustic break that your ears may be craving, Wand always come back to the guitars. The big, big guitars; they just find their way back. And that is more than cool.

It’s an impressive trip that the band takes the listener on, touring and touching on just about anything psychedelic that they can stuff into your ears: acoustic pop ballads, blistering rock, Zombies-esque harpsichord, and even pop tunes more-reminiscent of more-recent psych/pop stalwarts from the Elephant 6 Collective, such as The Apples In Stereo and The Olivia Tremor Control.

In fact, if this were the 90s, I have a feeling that Wand would be welcomed into the E6 folds very warmly, bringing that group of cohorts the acid rock influence that they were (mostly) lacking. They have the sound, they have the feel, and most-importantly, they have the songs.

Available here.

Album Review: Jouis "Dojo"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This Brighton based quintet's debut sounds extremely well lived in. In June 2013 they set to work building their own studio by converting, and acoustically treating two rooms in an abandoned office block. As a result their debut "Dojo" has the relaxed sound of an album made in an unhurried fashion, in an environment where the band are completely at ease to explore any possible directions that their songs could go in, without time constraints or record company executives breathing down their collective necks.

"Dojo" shows Jouis to be a largely unpigeonholeable band. There are traces of the early seventies Canterbury scene provided by jazzy percussion and lovely cascading keys, but where the proggy bands of old often fell down in the vocals department, Jouis excel, with tight, everpresent CSN style harmonies that go down smooth like honey. This combination of vintage Laurel Canyon style harmonies and progressive psychedelia is bound to appeal to fans of Midlake, but Jouis have an improvisational group mind that allows for much more explorative passages than the Midlake lads have so far showed themselves as capable of pulling off.

This ability to effortlessly switch from the tightly structured and melodic, to spontaneous and free form and back again, is a rare gift. Opener "All That Is And Is One" is a compelling teaser to draw you into their "Dojo" but the album is best experienced by full immersion, rather than plucking tracks here and there.

Highly recommended.

Vinyl, CD, full stream and digital purchase available here.

And check out Lucky Bozu's amazing animated video for "Misty Maker Stomp" here:

10 Nov 2014

Album Review: Howlround "Torridon Gate"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Here's something beautifully different, utterly chillingly and curiously affecting; the new album by Howlround, "Torridon Gate". The artists themselves describe the piece as being ‘created from a single recording of a front garden gate on Torridon Road, Hither Green, London…the sounds were captured using a contact microphone and processed, looped and edited on three reel to reel tape machines with all electronic effects or artificial reverb strictly forbidden.' This is not the first experiment or adventure in field recordings from Howlround; previous long players "Ghosts of Bush" (an album produced entirely from the nocturnal sounds of the former BBC World Service HQ) and "Secret Songs Of Savamala" received significant critical interest and praise, earning Howlround favourable comparisons with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And there is something similar at play here; a desire to manipulate sound, twist it into shapes that emote, that frighten, entrance and ultimately affect the listener on a deep, instinctive, physical and emotional level.

"Torridon Gate"s single full length track veers from the most distant and echoed of cosmic drones to unearthly screeches to an all-out cacophony of metal wails and then back again. The artists’ measure of composition is faultless; there are peaks and swells in this sound as well as motifs, lulls and spaces within the spaces. This is a suite of sorts and is expertly paced. Almost orchestral at times in the shimmering, resonating metallic notes that haunt the recording (and it sounds truly haunted) this album could as easily be a blood chilling sci-fi soundtrack for the depths of deep, black space as it is of something as urban and everyday as the noise of a gate. Recognisable as the source material only occasionally, mostly the sounds that emerge here are cold, spectral and disquieting but thrillingly so. It speaks of the worlds that are hidden in the everyday, the shadows and sounds we don’t see or hear but are there nonetheless, a world within a world. That this music (and it is music, it sings, it chatters and it moves) has a life of its own is a credit to the recordists and composers. Stripped of the use of any studio trickery this is a major achievement in a musique concrete and tape collage lineage that includes Delia Derbyshire, Stockhausen and John Cage. Fans of hauntological artists such as Pye Corner Audio or The Caretaker will also definitely want to listen closely.

A remarkable album and truly unique, this can be purchased from the splendid 'A Year In The Country' who, as well as hosting one of the most fascinating and insightful hauntological websites on the net, have also started releasing a superb selection of albums from artists such as Plinth and United Bible Studies, all in extremely beautiful and elaborate packaging. "Torridon Gate" comes in four different versions, starting with a Night Edition Box Set that includes the CD, a 12 page string bound booklet, a 4 x 25mm badge pack and, pleasingly, a 1 x original Howlround tape cutting. The Day Edition contains the album with the bound booklet and is wrapped in black crepe paper and wax sealed. A Dusk Edition comes in a smart matt wallet and, finally, a Dawn Edition is available in a foldout sleeve with a badge. This attention to detail in the albums presentation is fitting for a recording that is not just music but an artifact, something that stands as a piece of art in itself.

You really need to hear this. Strange, beautiful and uncanny, it will make you view the ordinary, everyday world just that little bit differently from now on.

Available here:

7 Nov 2014

Album Review: Human Greed "World Fair"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Human Greed, aka East Lothian based composer Michael Begg, has quietly been amassing one of the most impressive contemporary back catalogues in alternative/ experimental /ambient circles (though in truth none of these descriptions do this fine artist justice). Whilst earlier works such as "Pilgrim" and "Consolation" presented icy, desolate and wintery electronic landscapes, there has been a significant amount of warmth, layer and tone added to the last few Human Greed releases to the extent that "World Fair" is a hugely textured orchestral, and at times choral piece. Choice collaborators such as Julia Kent (Antony And The Johnsons), David Tibet (Current 93) and Colin Potter (Nurse With Wound) have added their contribution to the fabric of earlier albums, and on this new work Begg is ably assisted by luminaries such as Chris Connelly (Ministry), vocalist Sukie Smith and Scottish soprano Sophie Bancroft. In short, "World Fair" is an incredible achievement; previous albums "Fortress Longing" and "Black Hill; Midnight At The Blighted Star" are musical milestones in their own right, however this album is another quantum leap forward and as a result is like nothing else you will ever hear.

It should be mentioned that the album flows as a whole, a suite of songs that form their own distinct whole; an electronic and organic requiem mass. Opener "Invocation" is a veritable storm of electronic screams and howls; a landscape reverberating and echoing with electric gales. Then, a murmur of choral respite leads us into the title track, cello creating a sense of epic, foreboding elegance. It is both deeply moving and reminds this listener of Popol Vuh's darker, more gothic moments such as their classic soundtrack to Herzog's "Nosferatu". A whirl of scraping drones ends the piece on a glacial note and segues into "Waiting in a Car", a spoken word piece featuring Nicole M Boitos. Shimmering bells chime and merge with electric piano establishing a melancholy and otherworldly backdrop to Boito's words of reminiscence. At the conclusion of the track the noise of insect chatter and a disembodied chanting crowd creep in before "From Olden Disks" picks a delicate melody out of the analogue wind. As melancholic as this music gets and as electronic as it might be based it is nonetheless deeply human and utterly beautiful in its stately, haunted grace. A lone voice from the past recites memories perhaps long forgotten as drones and orchestral sweeps remind one of Coil, recent Ulver, and Begg's other musical work in the Irish collective Fovea Hex. A rattling piano plays amongst the sound of crows until "A New Bed's ghost choir creates the most unearthly of harmonies; again reminiscent in part of Fovea Hex and their singer Clodagh Simond's layered vocals, this is a stunning and utterly unique piece of music. Industrial music legend Chris Connelly narrates the "Entropy Suite", an orchestral march into hell that suggests Dead Can Dance's most delicate and darkest symphonic moments. Here, strings swell over the saddest piano notes you will ever hear; a suite of loneliness and lost memories. Connelly's Scott Walker-esque croon adds gravitas to a note perfect version of the traditional lament "Black is the Colour", the most straight forward and conventional track on the album. The build-up of strings in the finale is something that you need to hear, its impact on an emotional level cannot be ably described in words. "Lux" is an ice covered ringing cathedral of noise, dramatic stabs of strings punctuating the eerie coldness as a fiddle wails into the emptiness. "Heat Death Prelude" has a pulsating drone and frozen atmosphere that recalls "Soundtracks For The Blind" era Swans, siren wails of keyboard and cello meeting a tolling, persistent bell as bird like screams fill the spaces between the sound. "Chrysler" follows, a hum of electronic dread dissolving into almost optimistic organ and bursts of electric guitar. It is shiver inducing moment. Sophie Bancroft's vocals wisp around the hymnal "Finally The Night Has Come", a gentle reprieve amongst the storm and crescendos that preceded this hush. "Jvarasa Shensa" is a glistening, spectral orchestral piece, again sounding utterly heart stopping in its sombre beauty. "Fire"s percussion and chimes rattle and shimmer with an arctic glow before "Heat Death"s screaming wind gives way to Bancroft's angelic and haunted vocals once more, sounding not unlike something from Kate Bush's "50 Words for Snow". The sense of dynamic and flow in this music (it should really be listened to as once piece) is tangible; almost an orchestral movement in its scale and grandeur, this is easily Begg's most impressive work to date (and this is a massive fan of his earlier works speaking). The album closes with "The Landscape", the layered drones and effects creating a choral hum that fades into a distant crackling. It is difficult not to find yourself catching breath and feeling somewhat exhausted by the emotional and musical journey that has just taken place.

Human Greed are criminally undervalued; Begg is one of our most significant contemporary experimental composers. The scale that he has imagined and created with "World Fair" is testament to this. It is a masterwork and ably holds itself against Glass, Reich or any such revered names. Buy this album, turn the lights down low and perhaps close your eyes. Then just drift, observe and experience "The World Fair". You will not be the same afterwards.

Available now as a download, digipack CD or as a Singularity Edition which comprises "World Fair" and a bonus disc recording "Entropy Is Our Father, Heat Death Our Domain" by Michael Begg, Deryk Thomas and Colin Potter.

5 Nov 2014

Album Review: Prince Rupert's Drops "Climbing Light"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This Brooklyn-based quintet were responsible for Beyond Beyond is Beyond's very first release back in 2012 with their debut "Run Slow", and both the band and the label have come a long way since then. "Run Slow" was a pretty great debut, but "Climbing Light" shows a heap of growth, with the band sounding like they're having an absolute blast playing together.

While "Run Slow" was based mainly around a jangly folk-rock sound - think a much more jammed out version of the first Fairport Convention album - "Climbing Light" shows the band's heavier side, which juxtaposed with the lighter jangle, creates a nice, dynamic sense of light and shade, particularly on opener "Death March" which switches effortlessly from bludgeoning eastern dual guitar rifferey, to bucolic harmony vocals.

Elsewhere 'Sesame Seed" is all of the best tracks from the "Dazed & Confused" soundtrack rolled into one (with added trippy solo), "Dangerous Death Ray" invokes Rick Derringer, and the piano intro to the title track sounds like the setup to a sting from a vintage Italian crime film. Varied enough for you? Yes. yes it is.

While I still play "Run Slow" regularly, there really is no competition; "Climbing Light" sees the band at their most confident, unafraid to go wherever their muse may take them, and it's this sense of allowing the songs to be what they need to be, rather than trying to shoehorn them into a particular sound, which makes "Climbing Light" such an unpredictable, thrilling ride, and promises great things for the future.

Available from November 11 from the streaming link below (where you can currently hear four tracks).
You won't regret it.

4 Nov 2014

Album Review: Concretism "Town Planning"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Chris Sharp's Concretism haunts the grey, urban decay and suburban shadows of England; a spectre amongst the graffitied flyovers and imposing tower blocks that spring forth across this septic isle. Previous releases (this is the fifth following four EPs) have covered this aural description of the city environment with analogue precision, suggesting Concretism’s role as an unofficial national electronic orchestra. Yet it is the new long player "Town Planning" (Concretism's first physical CD as opposed to download) which may be Sharps' most successful and emotive opus yet. Inspired by soulless new towns and "the drab urbanisation of post-war Britain' this is a dark psychogeographical excursion into a modern and realistic sense of Britain's towns, estates and alleyways.

"The Cursed Streets" is an immediate dérive into urban sprawl, a sense of urgency in the cold electronic rhythms creating tension within the warm electronic keyboard harmonies. Fans of Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and other hauntological acts will find much to love here but there is also something else at work, something uniquely Concretism. The rhythms and twists and turns of this music are not simply a harking back to 70's analogue sounds. There is uniqueness at work here that, whilst invoking "Metamatic" era John Foxx and "Telekon" period Numan, also envelopes Warp luminaries such as Broadcast and then adds...something else. Something of a distinct and personal vision. Make no mistake; this music is intense and driven, there is a sense of purpose and dread as it communicates something of its deep relationship to the cityscapes it inhabits, which is both contemporary and immediate. And yet, despite the instrumental electronica on display, this is music that is also deeply human in its desperation and reaction to its environment. For example, "Prototype Housing Estate', with its melancholy bleeps and vintage keyboards is a heartbreaking elegy to a once hopeful future whilst "The Age of the Train" is truly epic, an orchestral sweep gradually entering the song to create a genuinely breathtaking moment. The song’s pulsating heartbeat and yearning synth sound veers thrillingly into unpredictable, dark, overgrown and shadowy corners and laybys. Whilst many hauntological acts err on the side of minimalism, Concretism fills the space, takes unpredicted directions and propel towards something glacially grand and majestic. This is music on a large scale, both emotionally and musically. "Eiswagen"s shivering melodies recall Numan's "M.E"; a veritable choir of massed electric voices that eventually distort and dissolve. Tangerine Dream's later works are also a potential comparison as is the proto-hauntological OMD classic "Dazzle Ships". It could also be argued that TV soundtracks such as Ken Freeman’s music for "The Tripods" and Paddy Kingsland’s score for "The Changes" are equally key as reference points for Concretism’s motorik, synthetic nightmares. Yet none of these comparisons properly convey the claustrophobic bleakness and terror that is contained herein.

"Town Planning" is a sinister, crawling electronic machine of a song, stalking the city centres and urban overspill, hiding amongst the subways and car parks. Waves of icy electric drones wash threateningly over a central melody; yes this music is futuristic but it also deeply dystopian. "The Hospital"s analogue percussion and keyboard hum should be soundtracking a BFI DVD of archive footage of the brave new world of tower blocks and vast sprawling estates. The sense of encroaching darkness and decay is pervasive amongst the alluring and intensely memorable harmonies.

Indeed it is Chris Sharp's genius that everything on this album is brimfuI of melody and fully realised as songs; these compositions are absolutely not abstract bleeps and blips, but instead are a proper electronic suite of graceful and stately tracks that work easily as well individually as they do as a whole. "Tesseract" closes the album with a bleak and nostalgic air, melancholy seeping from the synths as an automated choir heralds in a new, grey cold dawn. It is a fitting end to the album, the very real sense of despair and sadness amongst the pristine electronica only making this music more distinctly human and with more of a palpable heartbeat.

The spectre of the recent past lingers in Concretism’s music, haunting the listener with a very urbane and distilled English vision. Ballard-esque in vision and distinctly English in its character and observation, Concretism provide a soundtrack to modern existence. Put "Town Planning" on your headphones and step out into the asphalt jungle, breath in the fumes and let the cold beauty and bleakness of the landscape seep into your very bones.

"Town Planning" can be pre-ordered on CD now from Norman Records - due Nov. 14.

3 Nov 2014

Violet Swells Premiere New Single "Here Comes Yesterday"

Australian psych-pop darlings Violet Swells have a new single out soon, which you can hear first here!

"Here Comes Yesterday" ramps up the baroque-pop splendour of their early singles, and expands into newer areas, with twin guitars, squelchy synths and a push into more progressive territory. Chief Swell guy Ben Simms says "I've been listening to a lot more prog, and I think that has been permeating into my song writing, mixing with the three minute sunshine pop songs I usually record. Buying a synth helped to open up different ideas that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have had too.."

"Here Comes Yesterday" will be released on Mirador Records in Australia and Strong Island Recordings in the U.K.

And if you're in Australia, you can catch Violet Swells on tour in support of "Here Comes Yesterday" between November 21 and December 29 - dates and venues here.

Album Review: The Church "Further/Deeper"

Reviewed by Kent Whirlow

Back in 2009, Australia's The Church released "Untitled #23", a fantastic record which I loved then, and I still love now. I wondered how they were ever going to follow up such an outstanding album. Well, here we are in 2014, five years on, and here's the spoiler: They've delivered the finest record of their long and brilliant career.

I've listened to this around three dozen times now and, honestly, I am still hearing something new on each listen. This is a very complex record. It is clear that a lot of thought and practice went into making this masterpiece. These songs are expertly crafted. But, there's so much more going on here than technical prowess and fine musicianship. There's some real magic. There is no question that this will stand out for years to come.

"Vanishing Man" starts off with an eerie, mysterious beginning, and pretty soon it is unmistakably The Church. Steve Kilbey's voice (which has always been terrific) is in fine form, but what really shines is his delivery. As always, the guitars are superb - beautiful echoes weaving in and out, creating the perfect backdrop for Kilbey's wonderful vocals. Peter Koppes is surely one of Rock's most underrated guitarists. How he summons some of those sounds from a mere six (or twelve) strings, I'll never know. For the first time, Ian Haug joins the band, also on guitars, and he meshes perfectly with Koppes. It's hard to tell exactly who played which parts on some of the tracks, but one gets the sense that Haug's contributions are significant.

Guitars, guitars, guitars! They are everywhere on this record. But that is not all - as I said to a friend the other day, Tim Powles is the perfect drummer for this band. He really brings a lot to the table - hypnotic drumbeats, curious time signatures, just the right amount of drums, percussions, and keyboards in just the right places - all of those elements, always just enough and never too much. He's very involved in the production and engineering and it's quite clear he has a real gift for it.

"Delirious" is up next and a perfect example of the many joys that this record holds. It truly is the antithesis of a pedestrian effort; this is a very rich-woven aural tapestry full of twists and turns. Once you think you've got the song figured out, they peel off yet another layer and take the listener on yet another journey. Kilbey's lyrics will be running through your mind for days to come. The music is so intense at times, yet so fragile.

Next up we have "Pride Before a Fall", here's the official video. Honestly, it gets better with each and every listen. Kilbey's songs have a very "cinematic" feel to them, for lack of a better word, and I think this video strongly supports that claim.

The backing vocals are just beautiful on this record. There is so much going on in each song, that you really cannot process it all at once. I'll be listening to this for a long, long time.

The album is available in a double-vinyl release with 15 tracks, a CD with 12 tracks, and digital download, thus far only available from Australia here to my knowledge, with an international release due out soon. I purchased both the vinyl and CD, though the vinyl release has been delayed until likely December. I received an mp3 download (of the 15-song version) with my vinyl purchase and the CD arrived a couple of weeks later. Curiously, the track sequencing differs between the formats and I, for one, much prefer the mp3/vinyl lineup - it really has a nice flow to it. I presume this was done so that the songs fit when spread over four sides of vinyl.

So, with my preferred vinyl/mp3 sequencing, up next is "Laurel Canyon" and it is my favorite track on the album. What a gorgeous song; it starts off with a great warm, west-coast vibe and just goes off into a lovely, soaring amalgam of aural delights. It's all here - Kilbey's wonderful voice and mysterious lyrics, those hypnotic and impeccably timed drums, gorgeous background vocals, curious keyboard bits sprinkled in and, of course, acoustic and electric guitars everywhere!

The aforementioned track is flip-flopped with "Toy Head" on the CD version, a darker piece with some fantastic piano. Again, I have to stress just how much is going on in these songs - the listener really wants to concentrate on one thing because each element is done so well, but then you risk missing out on the rest, which is why repeated listens are so very rewarding.

Again, we have a variation in sequencing - the vinyl presents "Old Coast Road" (swapped with "Love "Philtre" on the CD, though both have "Globe Spinning" between the two.) "Old Coast Road" starts with an upbeat cautiously optimistic vocal delivery, but with that recurring mysterious undertow. This song, as are the others, are so unpredictable, which is much of the allure. Predictability in songs can be found on the radio for the less adventurous. There is so much variety here, but it is all neatly woven together in a manner that really works.

"Globe Spinning" is, simply put, psychedelic space rock at its finest. What an apt title - you can just feel yourself being hurled through space on a journey courtesy of an outfit that is truly worthy to carry the torch lit by the likes of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind so long ago. This is a band clearly firing on all cylinders with exquisite results.

"Love Philtre" has a delicate beginning and draws the listener in with all the nuances and poetic lines. It builds gradually and really has an epic feel to it. A majestic drum beat drenched in reverb launches "Lightning White" a few seconds into the song and heads into a tantalizing offering of splendid guitar work, delicate lines, backwards guitar (and not some boilerplate gimmicky effect, but done just right.) There is a great, pulsating bass line anchoring this big, big sound.

"Let Us Go" features some interesting keyboards and clever guitar lines and blended vocals. "Volkano" follows and is another excellent example in which there is much more to the song than appears on the surface, or at first listen. Each track on this album has its own identity, yet they all fit so well together.

The final tracklisting diversion: the vinyl/mp3 lineup inserts three bonus tracks here, the first being "Marine Drive" with some great pedal effects and layered vocals. "The Girl is Buoyant" starts of with determined acoustic guitar strumming and just when you think you have the song figured out, it shape-shifts into a very layered, swirling song.

"Xmas" is arguably the most stylistically diverse track on the album, with a prominent melancholic keyboard piece and some stellar lyrics that really get you thinking. It's a sad song, but also a beautiful one. My only quibble with Further/Deeper is that these three tracks were curiously omitted from the CD release, though I'm sure they had their reasons for this. I'm not one to be opposed to bonus tracks (especially on vinyl) but these do not feel superfluous to me in any way and they really fit well with the album, add to the splendor and just make it even better overall.

This leaves us to the absolutely outstanding "Miami" to close the album. It is graced with Kilbey's stream-of-consciousness lyrics (who else could possibly deliver a line like "I think Humphrey Bogart stayed there in 1943" so successfully?) This is a song that really seeps into your memory and you will find yourself thinking about long after listening to it. It is filled with beautiful acoustic guitar strums that are just impeccably timed. This is quintessential Church. The piece is simply exquisite, all the way down to the slow fade out.

Hats off to all for stellar performances, and of course, Kilbey is steering the ship as always - the man is unquestionably one of Rock's greatest geniuses. I had not expected 2014 to add to my 'Desert Island Discs', but it just has. This is perfection.

"Further / Deeper" is available here.