30 Sept 2015

The Active Listener Sampler 36

Another month goes by, so here's another sampler for you. I think that this is one of our strongest yet - a reflection on how much great music has been released recently which we've been lucky enough to discover.

Thanks to Andrew McGranahan for the superb cover art - check out more of his amazing collages here: https://instagram.com/andrew_mcgranahan/ we'll try and feature more of his work on future samplers.

Download the sampler here. It's a free / name your own price download, which you are welcome to download for nothing. Any donations that you can make are extremely welcome, and help to cover the running costs of the Active Listener website / Bandcamp hosting etc.

This month we feature the following tracks - all from releases reviewed over the last month (except for the Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, which will run very soon...)

The Diamond Center - Messenger of Wonder 04:14
Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab - High Inside (The Lost Frontier) 04:32
Paul Roland - Born In The 60s 03:59
Barry Uhl - Song Of Songs 03:09
The Wheelers of Oz - Revivalised 03:24
The Wrong Society - Without You 02:18
The Savage Blush - Thunderheads 02:44
Paul Messis - The Blind Leading The Blind 02:14
The Tomorrowmen - Hemispherical Synchronization 03:33
Salad Boys - Dream Date 02:40
Drug Cabin - Space Program 02:50
The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - Semyorka Side 1 06:49
Me & My Kites - Common Life 10:30
Trappist Afterland Band - Black Dog Coast 05:58
Erasers - By Your Side 06:38
Cosmic Analog Ensemble - The Concept and the Purpose 02:55
Midwich Youth Club - Lets Go Home 03:46

Pefkin - Liminal Rites

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From the French Wild Silence label comes 'Liminal Rites', the latest release from Gayle Brogan's experimental psych folk project Pefkin. Also of Glasgow duo Electroscope, Brogan may additionally be known to aficionados of quality psych and underground music as the director of the much missed Boa Melody Bar mail order music store. With this new release Pefkin have created a truly beautiful paradox, something of rough hewed purity, and complex simplicity. Meditative and ritualistic with its own quiet, hushed power, this is an album for those fast approaching crisp, clear and dark autumnal nights.

Opener 'Liminal Light' begins with the sound of running water and birdsong, Brogan's soft Scottish burr reciting over haunting choral touches, not unlike the rustic and bewitching work of Fursaxa or MacGillvray. The sound of wild, discordant whistle adds to the ether, creating an eerie sense of forest magic, of something otherworldly. 'These Blazing Stars' carefully arranged chimes, accordion and spare distorted guitar frames Brogan's delicate vocals in a hazy, twilit lament to superb effect; there is something almost preternatural in this music, it skirts the edgeland between this reality and the next, between darkness and dawn. Next, the epic 'One Held Hailstones' starts with echoed, repeated vocals that reverberate to create their own metallic drones, the sound of wind and spectral voices joining in a vast resounding wintry darkness. It is hugely evocative and reminds this listener of Coil's 'Musick To Play In The Dark' series, spare and simple and yet with immense power and a solemnity and grace that demands your attention. 'Down To Currarie Port's fragile fuzz guitar also evokes a bleak and desolate landscape, albeit a beautiful one. This fifteen minute long track morphs and builds, vocal harmonies interlaced over spoken word pieces with washes of dark drones ebbing and flowing in and out and melancholy woodwind drifting by. Very much a mood piece, I challenge any listener to remain unmoved or unaffected by its quiet, stark and brittle loveliness. The album closes with 'Halluciginia', this piece begins with an organ drone that combines with analogue whispers and winds to gradually build and grow in strength and volume, again reminiscent of Coil's 'Batwings, A Liminal Hymn'. Brogan's vocals enter along with clarinet and an insistent guitar strum, each component merging into the transcendence of the whole. Not unlike hearing the sun rising, this track offers an incredibly affecting and immersive experience. White noise floats into the frame until each instrument fades, one by one leaving only the sound of solar winds howling through the emptiness and a ringing, buzzing keyboard drone. Both breathtaking and genuinely moving, it takes a few moments to adjust after listening, to come back to this world again after being so transported.

For lovers of drone, psych and wyrd folk it doesn't get any better than this. This is music for the liminal spaces, the places in between; drift awhile there with Pefkin.

Available now on CD from the splendid Wild Silence with beautiful packaging (as always with this label) that is a piece of art in itself.

29 Sept 2015

Tea & Symphony - An Asylum For The Musically Insane

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Apparently one of the rarest titles on EMI's underground label Harvest, this bewitching debut, which flits effortlessly between styles, was simply too far ahead of its time to sell well on its original 1969 release date. Fortunate then, that Esoteric Recordings have got their mitts on it for one of their well remastered reissues, complete with the usual fascinating and in-depth liner notes.

Produced by Gus Dudgeon, and featuring the core trio of Jef Daw, James Langston and Nigel Phillips (supplemented by members of Locomotive and Bakerloo),  "An Asylum For The Musically Insane" is a natural extension of the underground, wyrd-folk of the Incredible String Band and their followers, fully immersed in the progressive rock that was just beginning to evolve out of the ashes of the psychedelic era.

While the likes of Comus are deservedly held in high regard now, Tea & Symphony have been largely ignored (except by label collectors). Indeed, before this promo arrived, I had written them off, due to the lack of hype surrounding their two albums. This, it turns out, was a major mistake. As much as I love Comus's "First Uttterance", their can be no argument that Tea & Symphony were doing it first, with "Terror in my Soul" from this release sounding very much like the template upon which "First Utterance" was hewn.

And with a winning formula like this, why bother to stretch out? Tea & Symphony do though. No laurel-resting here. Check out the terrifying cabaret of "Nothing Will Come of Nothing", with James Langston's quivering lead vocal sounding like Roger Chapman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Or how about opener "Armchair Theatre", with its effortlessly encylopedic genre shifting. And an excellent cover of Fred Neil's "Travellin' Shoes", possibly included to prove that the trio could tackle a 'normal' song with as much relish as their own idiosyncratic compositions.

There's never a dull moment, and even when the white boy blues of the time occasionally pokes its head through the door, it does so in a winningly twisted fashion.

Esoteric's excellent reissue also includes a surprisingly good bonus track, a cover of Procol Harum's "Boredom", originally on the flip of the "Armchair Theatre" single. If you'd never heard the original you'd swear it was a Tea & Symphony original, so well do they lay their mark upon it.

Time for a rediscovery then. Anyone out there with even the most remote interest in UK underground folk, progressive rock and the likes, owes it to themselves to dig into this one. My highest recommendation. And keep an eye out next month for a similar reissue of the more polished follow-up "Jo Sago".

Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

Us and Them - Summer Green and Autumn Brown

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Us and Them are a lovely, chilled out acid folk duo from Sweden. Britt Rönnholm (vocals) and Anders Hakanson (guitar and keyboard) resonate like a great lost folk group from the late 60s, keeping company with the likes of Fairport Convention or The Incredible String Band. They have that closeted, intimate warmth often associated with bedroom recordings. The sound is spare, maybe even lo fi, but its delicate meanderings are mesmerizing and austere. Britt paints her songs with lacy strokes, her lovely alto darkening things just enough to keep the listener from floating away altogether. I am especially taken with the gorgeous “Another View of Us”, which is airy and has meaningful lyrics that stay with you after the tune has faded away. This is music with an autumnal vibe, a soundtrack to accompany the listener through multihued forests. It also wraps itself warmly around my ears like a comfy afghan, drawing me into its depths. “We Are Sacred” is a pastoral gem, with its combination of chamber pop (think harpsichord) with folk overtones. “Late Night, Early Morning” is aptly named, a song for a cold, gray November day with beautiful vocals from Britt, and equally lovely music to accompany her. The band also uses synths sparingly, which lends enough variety to the instrumentation to keep it all very interesting. “Here Again” is bright and charming with wispy vocals and chiming guitars and keyboards, but also has a hint of mystery to intrigue listeners. “Precious Moments” is close and confessional, delicately rendered with unique musical flourishes. “From The Inside, Looking Out” starts off disquieting and chilling, quite a different feel from the rest of this record. And then it transforms itself on the bridge to a sunnier feel, but that doesn’t last long. “Insight” is short and peaceful and winds down this beautiful release in a fitting manner.

This is a wonderful album that is highly recommended for fans who like edgy, folk-influenced music with deep roots in the past.

Vinyl, CD (including limited edition 4 disc version), and stream are all available here:

28 Sept 2015

In Gowan Ring - The Serpent And The Dove

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

B'ee, a true modern day troubadour whose artistic vision has borne classic psych folk albums from projects In Gowan Ring and Birch Book, returns with new release 'The Serpent And The Dove' under the In Gowan Ring banner, the first release under this name in thirteen years. Influenced as much by early music as the deep well of 60's and 70's psych and acid folk, In Gowan Ring have delivered here a dark gemstone of an album, adorned with baroque and dramatic touches as well as more reflective, gentle rustic moments.

Opener 'The Serpent' is a majestic, medieval triumph of bowed strings, glistening orchestration and barely contained tension and drama. Reminding this listener of the works of Dead Can Dance and Soil Bleeds Black, this is music to lift the hairs on the nape of your neck. 'Thousands Of Bees' by contrast is a shadowed, reflective piece of chamber folk, melancholic strings underpinning B'ee's gentle and hushed vocals, reminiscent of both Roy Harper and Simon Finn. Deeply moving, accomplished and expertly crafted this is an incredible piece of contemporary psych folk. Next, 'Sial At Play' adds flute to a shimmering, quiet symphony of woodwind and early music instruments (which B'ee collects), drones drifting under the bardic vocals. Fans of Stone Breath, the work of Prydwyn/ Green Crown and, further back, the Incredible String Band will adore this. Both stirring and beautiful, this music is timeless and has ancient blood in its veins. The track ends with a solo suite of glorious woodwind. I'm not certain how a track can be both gentle and epic at the same time but In Gowan Ring manage this effortlessly. 'Julia Willow' is a woodland whisper, a Donovan-esque wander through the glades and copses with sunlight flickering and entering between the branches and leaves. A stately violin punctuates the acoustic air, adding a tension that hints at a darkness, of shadow places amongst the trees.

'Set A Candle In The Night' drifts into being on a river of acoustic finger picking and reverberated vocals, at once haunting and also uplifting. Distant drums and harmonies add texture and a wistful, orchestral layer. An incredible piece, this is a slice of pure psych loveliness that you must hear. The nine minute epic 'Field Of Dream' begins with Celtic strings and the clash of a gong as B'ee sings in the bardic tradition accompanied by bodhran, the tale unfolding in the twilight before leading into a medieval procession of finger cymbals and Jews harp. Again, the work of Dead Can Dance springs to mind and lovers of their oeuvre will find much to enjoy here. 'A Song, a Story and a Stone' starts with solitary piano before B'ee joins, a deeply beautiful and melancholic paean that reverberates and echoes through the mists, until blasts of psych guitar and sudden piano notes reflect the drama and sense of loss inherent in the song. One cannot fully describe the attention to very small musical detail that is apparent here, this is clearly one man's genuine vision and each bow of violin note, every piano note and every sonic embellishment is crystal clear and delicately powerful. Closer 'The Dove' returns us to the dark, string drenched sense of old Albion that was introduce with 'The Serpent', shimmering drones and the rattling strings of a zither building and growing until receding into the ether.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. In the same manner as current listeners seek out and venerate the classic albums of acid folk bands such as Mellow Candle and Trees, so it will be with In Gowan Ring. This is an album of rare power, it's hushed strength coming equally from its emotive impact and lovingly adorned song cycles. A true treasure.

Available here now on vinyl, CD and as a download.

Fruits De Mer 7"s – Magic Bus / Vibravoid

Reviewed by Shaun C Rogan

Magic Bus are busting out a new single on the always interesting Fruits de Mer imprint, double handed with a pair of tunes – “Seven Wonders” and “Eight Miles High” (yes that one). The ‘A’ side is a complete doozy and much the better of the two with its slowly rising intro, laced with keys before crashing into a slow waltz beat, not unlike hopelessly obscure early 70’s UK prog monsters like (a mellower) Czar, Gracious, Spring or Cressida but most definitely giving serious nods to prime Canterbury Scene fun seekers like Caravan. I particularly dig the flute led extended outro with it stabs of fuzz guitar and an organ solo that is pure ‘Land of Grey and Pink’. Ultimately though, Magic Bus transcend their myriad influences on ‘Seven Wonders’ and create a progressive pot-pourri all of their own. I wanted to listen to it again immediately and then again immediately after that. This is a very good sign that they are doing something very right. Like the best prog, "Seven Wonders" has many layers so you can really get involved with it. It’s from their new album apparently, which has the suitably proggy and entertaining title, “Transmissions From Sogmore’s Garden”. Someone should send me a copy to review. Great stuff.

The flipside really does up the ante with a very interesting take on one of the greatest songs ever written (in this humble writers opinion), The Byrds motherlode, ‘Eight Miles High’. Opening with a strange swirl of hurdy-gurdy/sitar drones, the opening lines of the song chanted slowly like some ancient Gregorian Monk scene (with mushrooms of course), you begin to fear a bad trip may be about to descend because let’s face it if you drone on Eight Miles High for 5 minutes it’s a pretty confrontational trip. On reflection the intro sounds like Tame Impala somewhat implausibly! However, Magic Bus are hip to this potential deal breaker and kick out the jams about 2 minutes in and the song opens out into a nice Brian Auger/ Soundcarriers vocal trip before stretching out for some more of that rather tasteful flute action. It’s cool, its retro and you can almost taste the fondue wafting on the formica dining table (swiss chocolate fondue, with mushrooms of course) before the final Mike Ratledge inspired keyboard solo flashes by and zooms skywards, leaving its vapour trails lingering around your ears. I am going to resist the obvious analogies given the name of the band in closing but thoroughly enjoyed my ten minutes of Magic Bus.

The other 7 inch offering is from the rather better known inner-space travellers Vibravoid, who have picked three of their (presumably) favourite 60’s arty-facts and had a dart at them. The ‘A’ side is a fairly fearless assault on The Monkees hit ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’. In fact it owes a lot more to the version by The Flies, so beloved of sad "Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" fixated anoraks like me, with its slightly more psychedelic overtones. Here, Vibravoid give it the full treatment with heavily treated vibrato/echoed vocals and fuzzy guitar replete with tasteful backwards guitar solo bringing things to sudden halt. Next up is a dart at Traffic’s classic solipsistic trip, and perhaps the first ever ‘shoegaze’ record, “Hole In My Shoe”. Now for some of us of a certain age, this song is dangerous territory given the treatment meted out to it by ‘Neil the Hippy’ from BBC TV’s The Young Ones on his remarkable “Heavy Concept” record from the mid 80’s and subsequent appearances on Top of the Pops with this tune as the lead 45. However, if we set that aside, we have a nice stab at the song and those not mentally scarred by their childhood television habits will find much to love about this - especially the dreamy ending. Schweet.

Matters conclude with a no-nonsense/lots of nonsense battering of HP Lovecraft's ‘The White Ship’. We are firmly in the land of the far-out here, with this deconstruction anchored by its sitar, fuzz drones, and spectral echoed and phased vocals that endlessly empty out into a cosmic slurry of aural stardust and general pandemonium (honest). It is a strangely impressive journey, if not a little scary, which will test your ’third’ eyesight to the max by the time the journey's end arrives after 7 minutes of sonic attack. Recommended for night trippers everywhere.

Also released in this batch of Fruits de Mer singles are new 7"s from vintage psychedelic people Nick Nicely and Tir Na Nog. You can order any, or all of these singles directly from the label here. Non UK residents may have more luck with the fine people at Norman Records.

25 Sept 2015

The Wheelers of Oz - Revivalised

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Early this past August, Perth, Australia's The Wheelers of Oz released their impressive debut, "Revivalised," a potent concoction of lush psychedelic garage rock. From what I can tell, The Wheelers of Oz boasts a seven name roster, though the songs were written by the duo of Sam Eastcott and Alex Halsey. Still, The Wheelers of Oz have a distinctively collective feel, with a strong balance in instrumentation and structure - and an apparent love for avant garde cinema, which they name as their sole influence. Like so many other bands, The Wheelers of Oz could be at home in any number of genres, depending on the listener's justifications - whether shoegaze, psych, garage, surf, punk - but, unlike some of their peers, they retain a sense of joy in that confusion as they mix and meddle, blurring the lines in every direction and - at least sounding as if they do - enjoying the simultaneously polished and garage/lo-fi ideals of musicians loving what they're playing and moving freely about their inspirations.

Instrumental opener, "Mis en Scène," is a subdued and subtle introduction to the band's work, complete with tags for the following musical aesthetics: sci-fi sounds, warbling guitar tones, dramatic organs builds, and tinny - often harmonized - guitar leads. Still, with so much revealed in the introductory track, "Here with Me" follows with a spacious, surf vibe while maintaining the dramatic movement and admirable twist well established from the start.

The debut's eponymous closer takes the strongest elements unveiled over the previous seven tracks and masterfully combines, dismantles and revisits each of them, all at an accelerated pace: unadorned guitar leads (that need no adorning), layers of effects (and flutes), and drones, all set to a dynamic beat. A promising end to their debut.

Despite an admittedly odd childhood obsession with "The Wizard of Oz" film, it wasn't until much later that I saw the strange, off brand sequel "Return to Oz," which left its indelible impression almost entirely by the appearance of the wheelers and the somewhat obvious warnings that read "Beware the Wheelers." It's rather happily then that  I welcome a new memory of The Wheelers of Oz, one much that is much more pleasant. An excellent debut from a band worth following.

"Revivalised" is available digitally or on CD, which includes a photo booklet from the band. Get either on their Bandcamp page (below).

Highly recommended.

24 Sept 2015

The Tomorrowmen - Futourism

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

One thing I'd like to cover a bit more of on the Active Listener is instrumental surf revival, but I find myself largely disappointed by the contemporary releases I hear, with bands either sticking too closely to the template set in the early sixties (with clinical contemporary production), or going too far the other way and losing that indefinable surf magic somewhere along the way.

One band that get it right bigtime are San Francisco four piece the Tomorrowmen, who have just released their sophomore effort "Futourism", which I've been spinning relentlessly for the last couple of weeks, with all of the right buttons being pressed.

It almost seems unfair to call "Futourism" a surf-revival album. There's absolutely no way that this album could have been released during the era of the initial surf craze - it's way too forward thinking for that, but everything that I love about the music of that era is present here, particularly the propulsive drums, and the tremelo-laden guitar work. But like their San Francisco peers the Mermen, the Tomorrowmen stretch out beyond the restrictive confines of the genre into more experimental areas, without ever losing sight of where they're coming from. Add an appealling sci-fi twist (not uncommon for this genre, but rarely integrated so seamlessly), and you're on to a winning combination.

Opener "Parsec's Paradox" starts things off in a more traditional mold, but even here, it's apparent that the guitar work of Mycroft Eloi and Lazarus Longfellow is much more fluent and investigative than the majority of their peers and forefathers. And their melodicism makes its presence known immediately, with a palm-muted staccato section here, smothered in reverb which is absolutely gorgeous. And as the album progresses, it becomes more progressive, with the more traditional approaches of the first half blossoming into latent psychedelia and wilful genre-straddling for an extremely impressive second half, exemplified best by the clockwork syncopation of "Hemispherical Synchronization".

"Futourism" is an extremely impressive and memorable example of instrumental progressive surf music, a perfect encapsulation of the futuristic retro-chic exhibited on its sleeve, and a damn fine album to boot.

CD, digital downloads and streams available here:

The Legendary Pink Dots - Crash Velvet Apocalypse

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Legendary Pink Dots should need no introduction; over the last thirty years or so they have released countless classic psych albums and singles, constantly redefining and refining their own particular style of apocalyptic electronic psychedelia. As a solo artist, main man Edward Ka-Spel also has several superb back catalogue treasures as well as work produced with artists such as Nurse With Wound, Skinny Puppy’s Cevin Key (as The Tear Garden) and The Dresden Dolls. One look at their Bandcamp page alone suggests immediately just how prolific this quietly influential, Netherlands based band have been but be assured, there is an extremely high quality control with LPD output too and novices can delve in without fear. For lengthy, Floydian cosmiche musical explorations sample the band’s ‘Chemical Playschool’ compilations, for perfectly formed and acid flecked psych nuggets try some of the magnificent ‘song based’ albums such as ‘Crushed Velvet Apocalypse’, ‘Shadow Weaver’ or ‘The Maria Dimension’ (although the Dots are often adept at weaving both aspects of their output into a seamless, deeply melodic whole). Several vital live recordings and previously unreleased tracks are also thankfully finding their way into the light and onto the Dot’s Bandcamp page, including the live ‘Crash Velvet Apocalypse.’ This recording stems from 1990 and is, according to Ka-Spel ‘the sound of The Dots on fire at the dark and dismal Crash Club, Freiburg, combined with the best parts of a show less than a year later in Vienna. Some rare songs to be found here, guitar playing that will singe the hairs on the back of your neck, and a band that sounds so hungry it would steal your veggie pizza’. What are you waiting for?

The album begins with gig opener 'Crushed Velvet Introduction', an electronic collage of choral voices and sound effects before leading directly into 'The Death Of Jack The Ripper' (from the masterpiece that is 'Crushed Velvet Apocalypse')whose drip-drop percussion and massed keyboard stabs provides an epic, deranged and deeply atmospheric entry into the Dots universe. Ka-Spel is in fine voice and we are reminded of what a serious live proposition the Dots are; not only does this track (as do the following songs) match the intricate, ornate orchestration that the band achieve on studio recordings, an extra layer of intensity and power is also invoked. 'Princess Coldheart' is a case in point; somewhat jauntier than its studio counterpart and resplendent with vast washes of synth and Neils Van Hoorns evocative woodwind, there is a tangible, twisted delight present in the performance. 'Even Now' (originally a Ka-Spel solo effort if this listener is not mistaken) is a gorgeous and, for the Dots, straight forward ballad that merges cosmic saxophone with an interweaving keyboard line and acoustic guitar. 'The next one's about the weather which is quite disturbing these days…' intones Ka-Spel by way of introducing 'Just A Lifetime', a suitably downbeat end of the world electronic anthem. For fans of fellow travellers in the esoteric English underground such Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound this is essential listening. There is also much to be eagerly devoured here by those who are partial to Neu, Cluster, Tangerine Dream and early, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd. Further highlights include the terrifying 'The Blessing + Green Gang', its monolithic keyboard lines and ominous church organ leading ,via a sitar and tabla freak out, to nerve shredding electronic screams and repeated chants of 'Here come the green gang'. Again, there is both an intimacy and intensity that adds something extra special to this live version, the original of which can be found, once more, on 'Crushed Velvet Apocalypse'. 'I Dream Of Jeanie' (originally found on a free 3” CD that came with the highly recommended 'Maria Dimension' album) follows, Ka-Spel's impassioned and echoed vocals repeated and echoed over the maniacal tango of the synthesised bassline. 'Black Zone' (from 'The Tower') is massive sounding, blistering guitar spinning across relentless, frenetic keyboards and Ka-Spel's deranged prophesying. It's unspeakably impressive and is followed with equal fervour by 'Hellsville', a Dots classic that sounds like the end of times being enacted right here, right now. A gentler though no less powerful approach is taken by 'I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty' with its delicate acoustic beginning and its fairy tale, baroque keyboard finale. A series of live recordings from Vienna follow including a truly beautiful and interplanetary 'Disturbance' (what Syd Barrett's Floyd might have been doing had Syd forgone his burn out and continued into the 80's) and an initially pensive and finally explosive 'Grain Kings' .

The Legendary Pink Dots are arguably one of the most important underground bands of the last few decades (and in this listener’s mind easily one of the best). Their level of output is phenomenal and the number of gems in their catalogue an embarrassment of riches. Ka-Spel used to sign off the linear notes on Dot’s albums with the dark portent of ‘Sing While You May’. That is exactly the modus operandi the Dots have continued to have; as long as the world turns they will be here to document the coming end times with sometimes a serious eye, sometimes heartbreak, often a jet black humour and always with an accompanying soundtrack that is mind-blowingly good. 'Crushed Velvet Crash' is a superior live document that distils the essence of the Dots and is as equally perfect for long time aficionados as newcomers. You know what to do.

Available as a download on the Dot’s Bandcamp page or as a double CDR edition in a card cover lovingly assembled at LPD's HQ (limited to an edition of 199 copies).

23 Sept 2015

Erasers - Stem Together

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Perth, Australia’s Erasers make their debut from Fire Talk (US & Europe) and Pouring Dream (Australia) this month. Though polished to a fine sheen, "Stem Together" remains hazy and textured; it's a bit of a slow burn, but the duo - Rupert Thomas and Rebecca Orchard - has successfully cultivated their moody design and consistently charted landscapes of eclectic rhythm - that isn't without its grooves - space conscious guitar and hypnotic synths - and of course those airy vocals that carry the whole thing off perfectly. What struck me most about Erasers' music was their willingness to meditate upon a progression without too many flourishes or layers; there's no part where everything comes in, complete with booming drum kits or waves of distortion (which can be great but sometimes predictable). Instead, Erasers is content to allow the song to move towards completion without much change and only a few additions as it goes. And it work very well for them: minimal, textured, and compact.

From the start, "Stem Together" embraces the drones, whether through Orchard's voice, the loose guitar tones or the solid organ progression. "By Your Side," the opening track, contains a mesmerizing rhythm that grounds the drones of the synth. As far as introductory songs go, this one does its job and more. From the first listen, the minimalism and simultaneously curated layers set the lure.

For a short song, "Bright Points" succeeds by building a lot of atmosphere. Orchard's vocals are treated as an additional instrument, adding only the slightest impression of words over the ambient crackles and dense synth. It's incredibly simple, but it's the perfect recipe for Erasers, especially as the second half of the record continues from there - a bit more driven and percussive, especially stand out track "Leaves."

For fans of early post rock (think Labradford), electronica, drone, and shoegaze; it's all here and comes together beautifully. "Stem Together" is out September 25, and available from their Bandcamp page on cassette, vinyl or digital.

22 Sept 2015

Heaters - Holy Water Pool

Reviewed by Celina Ozymandias

Out of Grand Rapids, Michigan comes the debut LP from psych-surf-garage trio Heaters. They're coming at you drenched in reverb and jangle and bringing the Indian Summer. This release, scheduled for the 25th of September, is called "Holy Water Pool", and fans of the sounds of Jacco Gardner, Night Beats, and Dead Meadow, will rejoice when their ears take a dip. This is mostly a mellow trip, accompanied by a steady groove and some mostly incomprehensible vocals, whilst you try to figure out what exactly is going on and why your arms are flailing back and forth and your head is bobbing involuntarily. It's enjoyable, it's pleasing, it's a gentle psychedelic ride that makes sure there are no bad trips. Everything is good here. Put some sunscreen on and dig your toes into the sand of your mind's eye.

The album hits you with "Kamikaze" first, which is a beautifully wonky and groovy way to set the scene. It's catchy, melodic even, and that 60s-influenced guitar sound is just oh so good. It permeates the entire album's lo-fi sound with its wet-yet-bright tone. I would say the most garage sound you'll find in this album is in the following track, "Master Splinter." I love when a song transcends its standard structure into a bit of confined, cosmic chaos, and there's a bit of that in this song. A little bit of grit can go a long way towards showing the dynamic of a band. This song makes me speculate that their live shows are probably really fun. Some other stand out tracks for me include "Hawaiian Holiday," which is a really nice, surfy instrumental which would make anyone long for a board and a beach, and "Honey," which while surf-infused, is a little more upbeat and builds into a beautiful rock n roll beat. And don't forget everything is teeming with the aforementioned jangle and reverb. The last track on the album, "Dune Ripper" is what I imagine it'd sound like if The Human Expression threw a beach party. In fact, it's my favourite track on the album, but that probably says more about me than it.

It's summer all the time for Heaters, and if you're a psych or surf fan looking for that perfect soundtrack to your west coast daydreams, Holy Water Pool is what you're after. The water's fine and lost in tyme.

Vinyl, CD and digital available here:

Dungen - Allas Sak

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Swedish psych masters Dungen ('the grove' in Swedish) have continually and ably built upon the promise of 2001's superb self titled début, with main man Gustav Ejste's easy way with sixties harmonies, fuzz guitar freakouts, folk rock touches and classic psych anthems providing a wealth of treasures along the way. This Midas-touched path leads now to their new album 'Allas Sak', their eighth release and first in five years. Estes has said of Dungen's inclusive, often uplifting and highly inventive music; 'these songs are my everyday experiences, my thoughts and stories from the life I live, I hope people can create their own stories around the music and maybe we can make music together, the listener and I'. With the consistently impressive 'Allas Sak' it's a safe bet that he has succeeded, its highly persuasive melodies and ornate arrangements collating to create a modern classic of the genre.

Opening track 'Allas Sak' transcends rapidly from the simple first few bars of xylophone to a baroque and cosmic anthem that combines addictive vocal harmonies, saxophone, Mercury Rev style ethereal touches and a genuine sense of wonder and awe. Singing as always in their native Swedish, the language barrier is actually no barrier at all; the upbeat and thrillingly creative melodies convey all that is required. 'Sista Festen' is a tabla driven, free festival of a song, sunny vocal harmonies and bursts of mind melting psych guitar and organ propelling the song into stratospheres of pure joy and psychedelic bliss before it merges with its more baroque counterpart 'Sisten Gasten'. Here, piano and a wistful nostalgia pervade with shades of 'Soft Bulletin' era Flaming Lips and a hint of Japanese psych legends Ghost. The instrumental 'Franks Kaktus' snares the listener with 70's style folk inflected flute and guitar runs that wouldn't sound out of place on Love's eternal 'Forever Changes'. Indeed there is something of Arthur Lee's questing spirit, mischievous intent and mastery of mixing folk, full on psych rock and chamber arrangements that is much brought to mind by 'Allas Sak'. The band switches with ease from tense, fiery guitar breaks into reflective, folky laid backness creating a constantly (and pleasingly) surprising and revealing album. 'En Gang Om Aret' does just this, beginning as a piano ballad before transmutating into an exhilarating guitar led prog-psych-pop classic, the music twisting and turning with more additional hooks and melodies than most bands manage in an entire album. The guitar finale virtually takes off into the skies on the wings of mellotron and layered vocals, bringing again to mind the best of Mercury Rev at their most transcendent. Next 'Akt Dit's late night saxophone and piano led contemplation still manages to be upbeat and a genuine thing of beauty, whilst 'En Dag Pa Sjon's guitar explorations need to be heard in their exultant and cosmiche splendour. One aspect of this album is that it utterly transports you to a different place, a different reality altogether. Time and the world outside passes by and you don't notice; this album steals all your attention and deservedly so. And it is joyous; there is a real sense of the sheer pleasure in creating these glistening harmonies and carefully wrought arrangements and adornments. 'Flickor Och Pojkar' is a measured drift through a star filled sky, chimes and xylophone shimmering amongst waves of strings and blissed out ambience. 'Ljus In I Min Panna' is a plaintive, acid tinged guitar and harpsichord perfect piece of baroque pop (think the original 1960's Nirvana as a reference point) while album closer 'Sova' adds harp and banks of vintage keyboards to a truly epic and memorable finale.

With 'Allas Sak' (which translates roughly as 'everyone's thing') Dungen decisively reclaim their place at the forefront of the psych rock scene and very possibly much, much more besides. This is an album of almost unbelievable levels of invention, ability and vision, coupled with addictively tangible excitement and wonder. Highly recommended; this will undoubtedly be many listener's album of the year.

Available here (US), and here (UK/EU).

21 Sept 2015

The Great British Psychedelic Trip Vol. 1 1966-1969

There's been such a great response to our Nuggets II tribute that we've decided get the ball rolling on a similar project - this time covering material originally collected on "The Great British Psychedelic Trip Vol. 1 1966-1969".

So here's the deal, if you'd like to appear on this:

E-mail me at theactivelistener at hotmail dot com letting me know which track you'd like to cover (having a few back ups listed in order of favourablility will make it more likely that you'll get to appear if your first choice is already taken). Please only use the e-mail address - other forms of contact are harder to monitor and keep track of. Please include "Great British Psychedelic Trip" in the subject field of your e-mail.

I'll allocate the tracks out on a first in, first served basis.

We'd need to receive your finished, mastered track in WAV (or other lossless) format by January 10 2016.
I'll update the availablilty of tracks here whenever possible.

Tracks currently taken (subject to change):

Turquoise Tales Of Flossie Fillett
The Attack Created By Clive
Timebox Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye
The Poets In Your Tower 
23rd Turnoff Leave Me Here
The World Of Oz The Muffin Man
The Ice So Many Times
The End Shades Of Orange
The Ice Ice Man
The Fairytale Run And Hide
Paul & Ritchie & The Cryin' Shames Come On Back
Tintern Abbey Vacuum Cleaner
Virgin Sleep Love
Turquoise Saynia
Toby Twirl Romeo And Juliet
The Amazing Friendly Apple Magician
Tintern Abbey Beeside
Fire Father's Name Is Dad
The Flies. I'm Not Your Stepping Stone
The Accent Red Sky At Night
Human Instinct Renaissance Fair
The Cuppat Miss Pinkerton
Toby Twirl Toffee Apple Sunday
Cherry Smash Green Plant
The Californians Follow Me
The Outer Limits Just One More Chance
Les Sauterelles Heavenly Club
Keith Shields Deep Inside Your Mind
Al Stewart The Elf

Salad Boys – Metalmania

Reviewed by: Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Every time the wonderful Trouble In Mind Records label releases something, I pay attention. Salad Boys’ new album is yet more fodder to show me why I should continue to do so.

Salad Boys are a Christchurch band that sounds like a Dunedin band—full of the jangling guitars and instantly engaging melodies that the bands on Dunedin’s Flying Nun Records made New Zealand famous for back in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, several songs, such as the album opener “Here’s No Use”, sound like they could have been outtakes from The Chills’ Submarine Bells, with melodies so perfect that I was singing along the very first time that I played the album.

Others, such as the second song, “Dream Date,” are a bit edgier, with harder-hitting guitars and more-driving rhythms. But they still maintain all the hallmarks of the classic New Zealand bands. Maybe these boys were educated at the Flying Nun satellite school in Christchurch?

But Salad Boys don’t keep it all on the island; their influences absolutely stretch up into the Northern hemisphere. For instance, the alternate-tuning riffing of “I’m a Mountain” was clearly influenced by some of the poppier moments on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. While “Bow to Your New Sensation” and the acoustic “Better Pickups” both have the dreamlike, circular melodies, tuneful bass lines, and cryptic-sounding vocals of IRS-era R.E.M.

Yes, the influences can be apparent, but no matter where those influences take the songs, a strong melody remains at the core of each and every one.

Salad Boys are not the first band to have worn their influences on their sleeves. And while their reverence for their heroes is noticeable, it’s not inexcusable, and listening to "Metalmania" is way more than just an exercise in “spot the influence(s)”. The songs are strong enough to stand on their own as Salad Boys tunes. In fact, their heroes would have been proud to pen many of them, themselves.

It’s another corker that provides yet more proof that Trouble In Mind knows how to build a label roster. And another great band out of the little island nation that seems to have a never-ending supply of musical brilliance.

I need to get down there someday! Anyone want to pay my airfare?

Available here (UK/EU), and here (US).

20 Sept 2015

Come & See Me - Dream Babes & Rock Chicks From Down Under

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

This new collection of New Zealand and Australian recordings of girl groups and rock chicks from Frenzy music (licensed to RPM) is a real eye opener. The down under territories were not progressive places in the sixties, and the releases from these countries that have been given a chance to infiltrate the international reissue market paint a picture of a male dominated industry.

Given this, I was surprised to find that this was a double when it arrived - a particularly full one too with 58 tracks. A certain amount of filler was anticipated then, but compiler Grant Gillander has done a spectacular job here, uprooting all sorts of great things that even as a local myself, I was unaware existed, and am blown away by the quality of. Most of the featured artists are pretty obscure. Even as a New Zealand local I'm unfamiliar with the majority, and those that I do know are usually remembered as somewhat lightweight - although there featured tracks here are uniformly gritty, and there are a number of tracks here that charted highly when released, even if history has tried to erase them from its books since then.

"Come & See Me" is partly educational then. After listening to this, you'll certainly be convinced that there was a very strong female component to the Australasian music scene of the sixties. But it's also one of the most entertaining history lessons you'll ever have, with a diverse and gritty mixture of beat, mod, northern soul, and hippie psych, all embellished with the sorts of era-appropriate trimmings that will have crate-digging 45 hunters reaching for their wallets with haste.

It's not all unknown outside of these territories either: the Chicks' "Rebel Kind" was recently unearthed and given lead billing on Ace Record's latest entry in their beaty "Girls With Guitars" series, and in all honesty, it's one of the tamer beat tracks to be found on "Come & See Me", and no competition for the facemelting freakbeat guitars on the Clevedonaires "He's Ready" - wow.

Elsewhere, Liverpool import Sandy Edmonds supplies a great version of Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk In The Room" which was a deserved hit at the time (and still sounds great now), and the Field Twins' "Someone Cares For Me" sounds like the Shangri-La's as a garage band, while Lynne Randell's "Stranger in my Arms" is the greatest northern soul anthem you've never heard. And we're not even half way through the first disc at this point.....

The bangers keep coming, and there's not a single moment over these two and a half hours that allows the attention to wander. Absolutely essential.

Get it here!

19 Sept 2015

Dead Sea Apes - Spectral Domain

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Manchester's Dead Sea Apes have been chasing new noise for a few years now. With each release since 2010's "Soy Dios," the self described "three man instrumental leviathan" - and it's not far off the mark - have pursued various branches of psychedelia, noise, space- and post-rock - and whatever else you might want to call it. This year, we receive another, this time a joint release from Cardinal Fuzz and Sunrise Ocean Bender. And "Spectral Domain" may be their best yet.

Those familiar with Dead Sea Apes will know that a five song LP is plenty of space for them to do their work, often genre shifting several times throughout any given track - especially considering the two ten minute plus tracks that bookend the release - and another in the middle for good measure. Opener "Universal Interrogator" is the most meditative of them all, focusing on the ebb of a relatively simple riff for the length of it. It's easy for these long formats to become tiresome, but, for Dead Sea Apes, they've taken the cores of their songs and dismantled and rebuilt them enough to keep us enthralled and firmly placed in the moment. They're one of the few bands I'd entrust one track and ten minutes to with utmost confidence. They prove it again with the noisier follow up "True Believers."

Mid-album, "An Unclosing Eye" defies expectations. The song begins one way and, by the end, has taken a number of different paths. At its onset, it might pass as a strictly ambient piece that follows the fluctuating wave of a few warbling tones, but as soon as the percussion begins, spiraling in with multiple tom patterns, it becomes something else entirely. Still, the song, as it nears seven minutes in length, allows for other elements to creep in - passages of Krautrock infused guitar noise and weirdness, wafts of math rock, and more searing scenes of electronic landscapes.

"Sixth Side of the Pentagon" leads us off somewhere else entirely. It's still dense with layers and whirring with noise, but the song is a sort of space dub, which somehow works very well for the trio and expands their sounds once more. This one comes with a high recommendation.

With a late September release, "Spectral Domain" is available for pre-order from Sunrise Ocean Bender's or Cardinal Fuzz's Bandcamp pages for U.S. and Europe respectively.

18 Sept 2015

Cosmic Analog Ensemble - Petits Pays

Reviewed by Mark Barton (The Sunday Experience)

I must admit that we here are suckers for the sound of a well heeled vibraphone, farfisa and harpsichord (our ears even picked up a theremin alert ‘Les Tours Eiffel Sous la Tour Eiffel’). They create a sense of outer worldly mystery and magic that has you conjuring all manner of images of anything from romanticised picturesque landscapes of faraway retreats, to sci-fi strangeness, spy noir, and more besides.

No strangers to these ears, I stumbled across Cosmic Analog Ensembles’ alluringly kitschy and kooky ‘Murs Libres’ via the Active Listener Sampler #24 and immediately adored its vintage tonalities, likening it to a would-be musical hive mind born of Basil Kirchin and Raymond Scott personas.

‘Petits Pays’, their latest opus, is a mood murmured mirage that one suspects has been time-tripped from an age of arty flock wallpaper-adorned habitats envisaged by Pininfarina and Vadim, where the optimism of the space race (still in its golden age) contrasts and duels with the spectre and realism of the prevailing cold war. Both expressive and entrancing ‘Petits Pays’ sits on the sonic outer rings of a mid 90’s musical scene by way of a collective primarily populated and headed up by Stereolab, Broadcast, Plone, Pram and Scott Bond (the latter being much recalled on ‘Main sur Hanches, Doigts sur Manche’) - like minded souls who enthused and delighted in the retro futurism of shimmering 60’s accents and lush library lilts. It would be easy to lazily file Petits Pays’ under the lounge umbrella but in truth there’s much here that ought to appeal to those admiring of such imprints as Finders Keepers, Trunk and Italy’s missing in action Shado.

Amid this beautified 15 track bouquet romance arcs gracefully shimmered in forlorn Autumnal reflection, floral posies, and silken spy noir sophistication. Here you’ll be smitten by the deceptive down tempo kitsch funk of ‘The Concept & The Purpose’ with its cutely cool tropicalia flavouring recalling a would be tryst between Lemon Jelly and the Winston Giles Orchestra, while there’s a faintly detectable noir chic attaching to the Third Man-esque ‘Vaise a l’aenvers’ to be savoured. Elsewhere the quite delectable ‘Sombre Affair’ freefalls seductively into an autumnal thoughtfulness reminiscent of the much missed L’Augmentation, while the bitter, sweetly reflective ‘National Blues’ is graced by a slyly off set yearn and tenderness that has you imagining it being some lost and forgotten score sketching, hatched during down time by an afterhours studio gathering of Barry and Grainer types. All said we here are quite adoring of the brief visitation made by ‘As Much as a Sonnet’ – a trippy slice of lunar loveliness twinkled by the galactic fanfare of opining cosmic carousels.

"Petits Pays" can be downloaded for free, or streamed here:

17 Sept 2015

Nuggets II Revisited - Out Now!

The day has arrived! Our very special tribute to the underappreciated second Nuggets box set (the UK and the Commonwealth one) is here, and it's streamable and downloadable right here.

Download for free by entering $0 in the price field, or make a small donation to help with our running costs, and we will love you forever. Promise.

The response we had for this was unbelievable - thanks so much to all of the featured artists for your time, energy, ingenuity, and passion. This worked out great because of you.

And an extra-special thanks to Alan Davidson of the Kitchen Cynics for his period-perfect cover art.

But you want to know who we roped in for this project, don't you? Well without further ado, here's the tracklisting:

1. Ancient Cities - I'm Your Witch Doctor 02:13
2. Valentin Noiret - My White Bicycle 03:50
3. Wesley Fuller - That's The Way It's Got To Be 02:48
4. The Beginners Mynd - I Wish I Was Five 03:20
5. The Chaotic Maps - Why Don't You Smile Now 03:04
6. Junkboy - Shadows and Reflections 03:19
7. NM & The No Man Band - Pictures of Matchstick Men 05:30
8. Exploding Eyes - Bad Little Woman 05:09
9. Love, Hippies & Gangsters - Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad 05:00
10. Mysterious Clouds - Circles 08:37
11. Blondi's Salvation - War or Hands of Time 04:17
12. Telafonica - Father's Name Was Dad 03:18
13. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - Desdemona 02:43
14. Sky Picnic - 14 Hour Technicolor Dream 02:51
15. Gilligan Smiles - Sorry 04:08
16. The Dupont Circles - I'm Rowed Out 03:43
17. Filthy Little Star - Sad 03:09
18. Wilding - I'll Keep Holding On 04:28
19. The Prefab Messiahs - How Is The Air Up There? 03:31
20. The Striped Bananas - Flight from Ashiya 03:02
21. ThiStill - Save My Soul 04:06
22. The Shea - Here Comes The Nice 03:43
23. The Kitchen Cynics - Take a Heart 05:20
24. The Ilk - Dance Around The Maypole 02:47
25. Madame de C - Midsummer Night's Scene 02:40
26. Steph Sweet - How Does It Feel To Feel? 02:41
27. Number 37 - I Can Hear The Grass Grow 08:05
28. The NoMen - Path Through the Forest 04:18
29. Crushed Purple - My Friend Jack 03:51

Find out more about the featured artists at the links below, where you can also hear more of their music.


Drug Cabin – Wiggle Room

Reviewed by Shaun C Rogan

They say that somewhere at any given time on the planet, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin is playing on the radio. Now I don’t know about that but I do have strong suspicions that in a small part of California, Drug Cabin are living in a version of the Monkee house where ‘Easy Rider’ is jammed on the television 24/7, the weed is high grade and never runs out, the air outside is cool and clear and the sounds of the Pacific are drifting up the Laurel Canyon in to the living room. Then there is the communal stereo which is spinning an intoxicating mix of late era- Beatles, Byrds, Steely Dan, and other luminaries of laid back late 60’s and early 70’s psych tinged goodness. And the bong is never far away…in their wiggle room.

This melange of sounds is clearly a heady mix and in the wrong hands could go awry. Drug Cabin know this and have honed these 12 songs to perfection to take the active listener on a super-chilled ride along the coast from Monterey to Malibu and beyond. In the current firmament of psychedelic west coast bands this is a good thing, as Drug Cabin are distinguished not only by their amazing name but also by their musical weapons of choice. This is definitely and defiantly stoner music of the gentle kind that deploys melody and concise musical arrangement to maximum effect. Its defining elements - the almost but never sloppy drum beat , the slowly chiming guitars, the amazingly tasteful deployment of breezy pedal steel on much of the material, giving extra life to the sweet and warm melodies, and super stoned, tight vocals mesh together perfectly for the majority of the ride.

Drug Cabin, despite their obvious appetites, are dealers in melody and operate with the kind of discipline that would make Henry Ford proud. None of the songs on ‘Wiggle Room’ last more than 3 minutes and there's twelve of them making this a record that never overstays it's welcome and has you hitting repeat over and over…

More about the songs? OK, well lyrically they are generally of the oblique variety fondly mined by the loaded so when the track ‘Wonderful’ exclaims that ‘you’re fucking wonderful in every way’ you listen up and immediately smile. ‘Ruby’ takes The Byrds ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’ as its starting point and heads out into the country. Opener ‘Handsome’ is busy doing nothing and making pretty pictures in your head. Many of the songs seems to concern themselves with relationships of one kind or another but to be honest Drug Cabin could be reading their grocery shopping list and you wouldn’t care. Drug Cabin have a song called “Stoner”, and you know that a) they should and b) its good – like all their songs on this fine debut long player. Its marked by a playful exuberance that never tries too hard. Everything is A-OK and you know they love you. There's also a cool song called 'Steely Dad'.  'Wiggle Room' enjoys itself and it's infectious. The record closes with the epic ‘Space Program’ floating on a circular riff that’s pure Acapulco gold (the full trip clocks in unbelievably at 2 earth minutes and 50 earth seconds)

So as you may have guessed, Drug Cabin are about creating a mood. A good mood. A gently stoned good mood to be more precise, where at any moment you think 'the Croz’ or ‘Neil’ or the ghost of John Lennon may drop by to jam and chill. It’s that kind of scene on this easy, glorious, sunny record. Drug Cabin invites you into their world and ask you to pull up a corduroy cushion and inhale deeply. But never bogart that joint my friend, that would be uncool.

In contemporary terms, maybe you could think of them as Real Estate's groovy cousins or MGMT’s laid back neighbours. I am also reminded somewhat of the sadly inactive San Francisco band Oranger and their' lost' classic “Shutdown The Sun” but these comparators are merely general pointers for you dear listener. Drug Cabin sound mostly like Drug Cabin.

'Wiggle Room' is available only from the band website/bandcamp on limited vinyl (a run of 250) and digital download. They have also recorded some other stuff that’s available on their bandcamp page but I haven’t listened to it yet.Hey I’m in no hurry and I guess Drug Cabin would appreciate me taking all the time I need…Check it out.

16 Sept 2015

Empty Vessel Music - There's Nobody Hiding Under The Gorse Bush

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Empty Vessel Music, the one woman project and vision of Portland, Oregon's Jennifer Jo, sees her new long player 'There's Nobody Hiding Under The Gorse Bush' released on the French Wild Silence label, and this feels like a very appropriate matching indeed. Both band and label are highly individual, creative and concerned with presenting heartfelt and beautiful art via a careful and considered output with a deeply visual aspect. Jo herself is a visual artist as well as musician and Wild Silence's releases (that have featured, amongst others, Richard Moult, Sophie Cooper and label owner Delphine Dora) and sleeve art is always presented with great care and emphasis on quality. Empty Vessel Music, born 'on a rain drenched afternoon in 2003 in Seattle' excel in a spooked psych folk that is evocative of the dark, rustic and sodden beauty of the projects landscape. "There's Nobody Hiding Under The Gorse Bush" is truly haunting, and comes from deep within those endless forests. You will not want to miss this.

The album begins with 'The Dead Birdman Falls Off His Tightrope', delicate acoustic guitars framing trickling, twinkling piano and Jo's unnatural but captivating ghostly vocals. Reminiscent of some of the more baroque and spectral work of Backworld and Richard Moult this is a breathtaking and luminescent opening to the album. Next, 'The Demon Lover' is a brief, slide guitar soaked slice of melancholy, Jo's vocals echoing as if in the deepest and darkest of valleys. Although pursuing a more stripped back and wraith-like approach, Empty Vessel Music will be much appreciated by those who favour the music of fellow psych folksters Espers, Sharron Kraus, Faun Fables and Stone Breath. 'Tending The Flock's accordion drips late night atmosphere as xylophone and piano shiver like stars on a cold, clear night. This music is hugely emotive, it blankets the listener in an air of reflection and a sense of quiet nostalgia that you cannot help but be moved by. 'The Dead Birdman Catches A Falling Star on His Frozen Tongue' introduces chamber styled woodwind to the acoustic guitar, Jo's reverberated vocals like a choir of ghosts. Much of this album is instrumental with Jo's voice another, crucial instrument used to create the enveloping and immersive mood of wintry, desolate woodlands. 'Her Prostitution's precise guitar notes, intense finger picking and floating, hazy and doomed vocals conjure up the type of backwoods seen in the first season of True Detective and reminds this listener of the baroque psych of fellow traveller Arrowwood. 'Violet Wrapped Tissues' strips things back to piano and layered, echoed vocals to beautiful effect in a dusty, abandoned room of a song. Much of this album feels sepia in tone, there is the feeling of vintage times and memories gone by, of something remaining that is haunted and alone.

In contrast, 'The Unwanted Gift In Spring' emerges from the shadows, beginning with woodwind and a sprinkling of piano, akin to the first shards of sunlight of a new day. Accordion and a choral evocation of something being borne from the winter's gloom drifts alongside mysterious whispers and percussion to create something truly magical indeed. The rattling of percussion and insistent guitar heralds 'Climbing Into A Terrorist's Dream', sharp bowed notes and finger cymbals, Jo using her voice itself as percussion and as a soaring source of dread melody. Sounding not unlike some of the solo work of Dead Can Dance's Lisa Gerrard, this track startles and punctuates after the ghost like mists of previous songs. There is real power here. Penultimate track 'Yesterday Changed Everything' returns to quieter, sadder territory with accordion drones and recorder adding an acid folk sheen that recalls such classic 70's albums as Stone Angel's début, Oberon's 'A Midsummer Night Dream' and Nico's early, John Cale produced albums, 'The Marble Index' and 'Desertshore'. This album is that good, trust me. Finally, 'His Last Supper' opens with birdsong and the drift of keyboards, Jo's vocals incanting to the winds. Not just unearthly sounding but supernatural, this is a symphony of hedgewitches, of the dark heart of the woods brought to song. It is an incredibly memorable and heart stopping conclusion.

There is a definite sense of something arising from the forests in America that is not unlike a parallel to the new psych folk movement here in the UK spearheaded by the likes of United Bible Studies, The Owl Service and the Weirdshire collective of Sproatly Smith, Sedayne and Alula Down. Although disparate and unconnected personally there is a common vein of haunted rustic folk emerging Stateside from Stone Breath, Novemthree and Arrowwood and Empty Vessel Music. This is music for those times outdoors were the wind is whispering through the trees and you can swear you hear voices. A quiet triumph of an album, 'There's Nobody Hiding Under The Gorse Bush' is essential listening.

Available now on CD (and download) below, with the beautiful and thoughtful packaging that has become associated with the Wild Silence label.

Barry Uhl - The Stargazer's Bible

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Barry Uhl released a spectacular psych-pop album last year - "An Account Of The Happenings At Wretched Knob". "...Wretched Knob" is a fabulous album, a collection of character studies of fictional characters from a made-up town, which demonstrates Uhl's gifts for observation (undoubtedly these characters had some basis in the people around him), and poignancy.

Given these skills, it's perhaps a little voyeuristic of me to enjoy his newest album "The Stargazer's Bible" as much as I have. "The Stargazer's Bible" sees Uhl turn his keen observational skills on himself, and those around him in particularly candid fashion. Barry operates at the exact point where the music of Brian Wilson and Wayne Coyne intersect, and as such, he's perfectly placed to deliver this very intimate journal in a way that seems both deeply personal, and universally communicable.

Having an unerring knack for a timeless pop hook does no harm of course, and it's a skill that certainly helps the medicine go down here. Opener, "The Ornament", has already been described in another review as "like some transcendental lost Beach Boys track from 1967, all neon-lit, confusing, and gorgeous", and that's a description that could very well relate to the album as a whole.

Uhl's vocal arrangements are certainly Wilsonesque, but beyond this, the baroque pop of "Pet Sounds" is used as a starting point only, with Uhl musically stretching into much more contemporary fields of psychedelia and indie rock / pop. The fuzzy guitars and semi-distorted vocals of "Euphoria (Planned Bruises)" take things in a noisier direction than anything on "...Wretched Knob", but the ever-present wall of harmony vocals, and sweet pop hooks balance out the grit nicely,  a balancing act that carries over perfectly to the riffiest number ,"Song of Songs". Elsewhere, there's a playful melodic tinge on "Devouring the Devoted" that brings to mind the sort of thing that might have resulted if Randy Newman had been pressured into recording a typical psych-pop album in 1967.

And the momentum continues throughout; top, melodic tunes, cleverly arranged with updated baroque pop touches, appealling vintage synth hooks, and lovingly layered harmony vocals. You don't need to hear any more from me at this point to know whether this is going to be your sort of thing. All you need to know is that it is very good indeed, a fearless album, and one that I suspect will become known as Uhl's very own "Soft Bulletin".

CD, digital and full stream available here:

15 Sept 2015

The Savage Blush - The Savage Blush

Reviewed by John Knoernschild

The Savage Blush is a psychedelic surf rock band formed in Denver, Colorado during the summer of 2014. Lead singer Rebecca Williams started the band, picking up bassist Brandon Stanley and drummer Joshua Williams, her brother.

With a heavy surf rock sound and twangy vocals, the Savage Blush delivers a fantastic album. The overall sound has a reverb laden effect, which they retain for the whole of the album. They went for something and kept with it. I for one am glad they did.

Rebecca William’s voice is hard to describe. If Janis Joplin toned it down a notch and starting singing surf/punk rock, then mix that with the lead singer of Beach House; that might describe her voice…..sort of. You really have to hear it to “get” it.

The beginning of ”Hearts in Trouble” reminds me of Cream’s "I Feel Free", then hits the ground running with a yelp, cymbals come crashing in and the song picks up a sort of honky-tonk beat, before returning to the cool Cream vibe. "Sick Mouth" starts off dripping with a Velvet Underground vibe, slowly growing into a heavy psychedelic flow, reminiscent of Wooden Shjips.

"Meet Me in the Sun" takes you on a classic surf rock ride, with a touch of the old west in Williams' vocal delivery. I can’t help but imagine riding on horseback through a barren desert wasteland, while listening. "Run Betty Run" instantly reminded me of something Nirvana would have made in their late years circa "Unplugged in New York". Super laid back, with an intoxicating, mellow, vibe, it hits me right in the memory banks that bring back feelings of being young….er.

With "Thunderheads", the album continues with its relaxing flow, making you feel like you’re floating on a raft somewhere in the Caribbean, never leaving its fluffy space. If something could hit you like a ton of feathers, this is it. "Pitch Black" is a powerful change of pace for the otherwise laid back album. With more of a classic rock influence to this song, it’s as if the album drank a Red Bull, and it’s freakin’ great! "I’m A Fool" really wraps things up nicely, winding down the album and leaving you with a feeling of total calm.

Having never heard The Savage Blush before, I’m hooked! I can’t recommend this album enough to anyone that digs driving, psychedelic surf rock.

Available here: