31 Jan 2016

New Cardinals - New Cardinals EP

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz

Seattle has many fine bands, and The New Cardinals are a welcome addition not only to the Northwest music scene but to the psychedelic spectrum as well. The band is the duo of Sam Rice (bass, keyboards, vocals, percussion, effects) and Peter Tilton (guitar/vocals). This is chiming jangle pop with a slight melancholy edge.

Witness it for yourself on the fabulous “Window Days”, which seems to channel Brian Wilson as well as modern artists such as Tame Impala. “Let’s Talk” surfs a prog vibe with its cool organ, perky synths, and great harmonies, all washed with a hazy psych sheen. “Hidden In the Light” revels in late 60s/early 70s pop, while the album’s closing track, the lush “Tomorrow Waiting” takes its time sucking you into its widescreen marrow, and after seven meandering minutes, leaves you completely blissed out and wanting more.

This is a treat for all fans of delicately crafted psychedelia with a late 60s sensibility.

Available as a free / name your price download here:

29 Jan 2016

Eyes of Blue - Crossroads of Time / In Fields of Ardath

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Initially a soul outfit (what else could they have started as with that name?), Welsh six-piece Eyes of Blue escaped an unhappy time on the Deram label, signing to Mercury just as they'd discovered the sounds of the US West Coast, amalgamating those influences with some much closer to home - UK psych -pop and the nascent proto-prog of the Moody Blues. In the process they became one of the very first groups to play what was becoming known as progressive rock. "The guys from Yes would come along to our gigs, stand at the back and make notes" says drummer John Weathers in all seriousness.

They made two LPs for Mercury, both of which have just been freshly reissued on CD by Esoteric Recordings, who are developing a peerless catalogue of UK progressive classics from lesser known names.

Debut "Crossroads of Time" starts off with a bang, with the percussive Graham Bond penned title track being something of an epic, but rather than frontloading the album, it acts as a sampler of the scope of what follows. Recorded in 1968 and released early the following year, there's still plenty of psychedelia to be found amongst the more progressive elements here - particularly the startling, Eastern guitar breaks of "Prodigal Son" - as well as cleverer-than-most vocal arrangements (put to great use on an inventive cover of the Beatles' "Yesterday"), and heaps of Hammond organ. Memorable songs too, and an excellent debut all around, which often reminds me of what a Welsh-born Spirit would have sounded like.

Later on that same year, the band's second album "In Fields of Ardath" appeared, a much more experimental and progressive album, with the band's growing confidence leading them to take a greater degree of control in the mixing room, as well as a more collaborative approach to the songwriting. "After The War" and "Door (The Child That is Born on the Sabbath Day)" are a step in a heavier direction, with doom-laden passages which ought to appeal to fans of occult-rockers like Black Widow. Elsewhere there's a lightness of touch on the bewitching wordless vocals and sumptuous jazz chordings of "Extra Hour" which show the bands willingness to stretch themselves in more than one direction, creating an impressive, visionary opus in the process.

It's a great swansong for the band, assuming one ignores the underwhelming followup as Big Sleep in 1971, which would be generally for the best.

All you need to know about the band is contained within these two splendid vessels, and as we've come to expect, Esoteric's new editions are definitive, with an excellent remastering job and thorough, informative liner-notes. My highest recommendation.

Crossroads of Time is available here (UK/EU) and here (US).
In Fields of Ardath is available here (UK/EU)) and here (US).

28 Jan 2016

Dodson And Fogg - Roaming

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Dodson And Fogg, essentially the project of mainman Chris Wade with a cast of colourful and talented contributors, returns with 'Roaming', the band's ninth album (or tenth counting last year's superb joint Chris Wade / Sand Snowman release 'Tell The Trees It's Autumn Again'). This fine collection of psych jewels offers yet more of the song writing nous, wit, quirks and genius that Wade instils in every one of his recordings from Dodson to his work with Rainsmoke and Rexford Bedlo. For a while criminally underrated, Wade and Dodson’s star now seems to be on the ascent and this album can only serve to draw more, much deserved attention.

The album opens with the title track, a determined sounding acoustic guitar giving way to Wade's glorious vocal harmonies to create the dual uplifting/melancholy essence of Dodson And Fogg. A uke solo lifts the song to a higher plain and there is a wide-screen, journeying ambiance that is almost tangible (and reminds this listener of the Fleet Foxes epic 'Helplessness Blues'). Continuing with the sense of being transported forwards into an ever increasing horizon, 'I Could Tell You The World Is yours' is a wickedly contagious and propellant track that combines distorted fuzz guitars with whip fast acoustic arpeggios and Wade's almost deadpan yet hugely emotive delivery. 'For a While' slows the pace, a gorgeous sprinkling of chiming guitars and backing vocals by none other than Nigel Planer (of The Comic Strips presents/ Young Ones fame) framing a wistful piece of perfect psych pop. A darker hue is suggested by 'The Best in Me', ominous minor chords and Celia Humphris's (of acid folk masters Trees) evocative backing vocals. Wade can dip into and evoke a wide range of emotional reactions with his songs with apparent ease, an inflection or turn of phrase turning a deceptively upbeat song into something altogether more nostalgic, sepia tinged or vice versa. 'Book of Rules' is a case in point, ably switching from something Bolanesque and stridently positive to something altogether more mysterious and cosmic with sudden change in gear, a hint of mandolin and some carefully positioned vocal harmonies. Each of these songs is a mini symphony in itself; you have to hear just how in control of his craft Wade is, how on top of his game this modest singer songwriter currently is (and I don't mind repeating again and again, he is by far the country’s leading psych artist). This is not to suggest that these songs are clinical or contrived in any way; quite the opposite, they crackle and burn with creativity and the sheer joy of bringing this music into the world. 'I'm Running Out Of Patience Now' demonstrates this with ease; there are more melodies and ideas in this song that some artists manage in a career.

'Pulling faces' introduces tabla (much of Dodson's output works without the use of drums which gives the music a notable and effective sense of floating and otherworldliness) whilst 'Always Looks Like That' adds some truly beautiful harp and chimes to a song that is pure Canterbury scene in its hazy, English riverside reverie. 'Yesterday Man' is the classic slice of British psychedelia that Damon Albarn has been trying to write for the past 25 years. This is followed by 'Rain Clouds' which takes a leaf out of Village Green Kinks territory with some acid folk flecked flute from Georgia Cooke thrown in for good measure, resulting in an album highlight. 'Roaming 2' begins with the sound of a telephone being answered and a reverberated eerie vocal from Daisy (of Daisy And The Dark) as fellow long-time collaborator Ricky Romain sprinkles some of his essential sitar work across a building and growing sense of solitude and the open road, guitar rumbling and echoing as the tension builds to height after height. The album finishes with 'Silver Bay', an arrival at a destination of sorts with the sound of gulls and waves leading into a reflective and magical acoustic meditation. Written with partner Linzi (who also contributes the stunning sleeve art as she often does with Dodson releases) this is the essence of Dodson distilled; melodic, English psych with a Syd Barrett sense of unease and an undercurrent of rainy day sadness. And then we are left to scratch our heads and wonder how Wade can continually do this; prolific yet with a stringently high sense of quality control, this album of gems simply adds to the riches already stockpiled in Dodson's back catalogue.

This is an essential listen for lovers of classic 60s psych pop, The Kinks, Bolan, Barrett and for those enamoured of beautifully constructed nuggets of psychedelic wonder. I trust this refers to you; if so then it is time to go roaming with Dodson And Fogg.

Available now on CD and download form Wade’s Wisdom Twins website and Bandcamp page.

27 Jan 2016

Al Lover - Zodiak Versions

Reviewed by Dedric Moore

Moving away from fat beats and distorted guitars, Al Lover expertly combines dub aesthetics with Krautrock's discipline and patience for long hypnotic grooves on his new long player "Zodiak Versions". Some of the songs are reminiscent of Peaking Lights' bending of the idea of dub and electronics, while others remind me of the underground dub music that embraced electronics in the 90s. Regardless, "Zodiak Versions" is a great stereo listen, as time was obviously put into psyching out your mind with stereo imaging. What is also fun to observe is how Al rides a fine line between the genres but always remembers to add in a "psych" riff or groove to balance the spaced out atmosphere and dubbed out drums.

Krautrock and dub are cited as major influences on "Zodiak Versions", and within that you can heap a bunch of electronic beats and sweeping synths. It is interesting to hear a DJ's approach to songwriting balanced against mood-building.

"Kling Klang Soundclash" and "Zodiak Version" start off the album with lots of atmosphere as electronic percussion slides in to tickle your ears with a bit of rhythm. "Studio Einer Dub" adds a complex rhythm as synths lead the charge, building layers of melodies. The track is very "dub" and spaces out at just the right times. "Jah Warble" gives a nod to the bass style of Wobble with some low, low end bass. "Neo Eno" gives a nod to Eno's ambient work, which has influenced half the globe, particularly his idea of space being as important as the melody. It sounds like watching the stars while leaning against your car on a calm night.

"Planetarium Rock" and "Earth People" bring more heavy groove as the beats get tougher while the synths stay chill. "Stockhausen Soundsystem" brings the beat back down but the fuzz creeps in on the synths and gets things moving. "Osbourne Ruddock vs Connie Plank" (best song on the release) hits just the right mix of dubbed out effects and hypnotic beat. The funky organ groove in the background keeps me hitting repeat on this one.

From there the album winds down into more meditative fare and ends on "Kosmiche Music in Dub", with pitch-bent keys that meld together almost like a sitar drone and spaced out snare echoes, until the groove kicks in for a dramatic ending to a diverse release.

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

24 Jan 2016

Black Lesbian Fishermen - Ectopic Apiary

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Hailing from Greece, Black Lesbian Fishermen are a mysterious collective that count Alan Trench (Orchis, Temple Music), Nikos Fokas, Stratis Sgourelis and Rebecca Loftiss in their number (the latter artist recording as a part of both the excellent Grey Field Recordings and Howling Larsons as well as the being the creator of the 'In The Cities Of Your Eyes' compilation in aid of Syrian and other refugees). The hazy psych of Howling Larsons gives some indication of the sprawling yet beautiful exploratory symphonies contained herein and the atmospheric experimentalism of Grey Field Recordings offers a hint as to the melodic but defiant disdain for boundaries or convention.

Opener 'Lignite Light' is a live take and one which captures the Fishermen in all their resplendent, kosmiche power and beauty. Chiming guitar lines weave lysergically into backwards effects before merging with flute and resonating E-bowed strings in a grandeur that recalls both 'Saucerful of Secrets' era Floyd and the majesty of Japanese psych legends Ghost. The sounds are vast and yet comforting, the sense of a dark yet tranquil solar emptiness above us is eerily present throughout. At ten minutes this track is an epic and bold statement of intent; the Fishermen's stall is firmly and truly set out. 'LIL' begins with queasy dread filled keyboards, gong and percussion, conjuring up a possible soundtrack to an unwritten Alejandro Jodorowsky film. Spoken word vocals intone before ominous bells peal and a cosmic wind gathers pace to be joined by Rebecca Loftiss's flanged vocals. It’s both hugely effective and unsettling, the sound of some extraterrestrial apocalypse. Next, 'Ragged Ritual' enters with a Nico-esque Eastern harmonium, Loftiss's voice echoing alongside esoteric percussion and processionary, regal and solemn keyboard and guitar refrains. Drums and bells appear through the haze as a seriously tripped out voyage of guitar voyage, ever building and ever searching. Reminding this listener both of Popol Vuh and Godspeed You Black Emperor in its precise yet exploratory guitar lines and pervading sense of ever layering and building repetition this is nonetheless an utterly unique recording; the Fishermen conjure sounds from darkness that sound quite unlike anyone or anything else you'll hear. The pace quickens and molten, distorted bursts of lead guitar scream like comets through the sky. It's both exhilarating and utterly hypnotic. Meanwhile, 'White Reptiles', with its angelic choirs and doom filled metallic guitar coasting over a shuffling beat, continually grows in intensity and circles with a sense of unease; a dark pulsar of a song. Loftiss's voice drifts throughout as if in a dream, adding a further hallucinatory edge.

Another extended live take 'All in the Green' is introduced by oscillating analogue keyboards and a strident bass line. Shimmering strings and chimes blanket the song as it begins its strange exodus to the stars. Bursts of fiery and incendiary guitar interjects as an otherworldly organ journeys further and further outwards into the void. The album finishes with 'Ice', an unearthly crackling and haunting siren beginning the song as bells toll and a slow, stately drumbeat and bassline emerges. As vintage synth sounds wail and tear across the canvas, a proclamatory voice talks of 'ancient skies' and the effect is virtually hypnagogic; it feels like you are dreaming this music.

The band members have an impressive history and catalogue with their other projects, however Black Lesbian Fishermen stand in their own right as a mindblowingly impressive psych band that firmly command their own distinctive and transportive sound. For fans of 'Warrior on the Edge of Time/ Hall of the Mountain Grill' period Hawkwind, the afore mentioned Popol Vuh as well as kosmiche artists such as Sand and Amon Duul, this is a must. Seek this album out, lie back, close your eyes and drift off into the most unsettling yet beautiful dream you may ever have.

Available now via the artist’s Bandcamp page and as a very limited CD edition (there are very few remaining so please email dagbert58@gmail.com first to check availability).

22 Jan 2016

Peacock Farm - We Didn't Catch You in Watercolor

Swedish psychedelic band Peacock Farm (whose debut EP impressed the hell out of me in 2014) recently went to Nacksving Gussjö Studios in the dark forrest of Västmanland, Sweden, to record a live session.

It was recorded by Marcus Cederlöf and filmed by Adam Toner and resulted in a short live film called We didn't catch you in watercolor, including four previously unreleased tracks.

It's a lovely document which you can check out here - set receptors to stunned!

20 Jan 2016

The Heartwood Institute - The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy

Reviewed by Shaun C Rogan

The Heartwood Institute (aka Jonathan Sharp) has been at it for a little while now and unlike some of his contemporaries he remains on the upgrade. This is due in no small part to his constant redrawing of his own boundaries and willingness to venture beyond the sometimes rigid diktats of many of the hauntologists operating at present.

“The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy” is his second official crack at interpreting the work of celebrated novelist Penelope Lively, the title cribbed directly from her third novel published in 1971. His last release “Astercote” (which you can read about here) meted out similar treatment to her first book (1970) in a highly entertaining way. As with the previous reimagining project, Sharp has a stated intent to “to create a soundtrack as it might have sounded at the time of the original publication.” I am pleased to report that it is mission accomplished on this latest outing and that there is an increased degree of sophistication and widening of the sonic palate in this latest venture that really pays off as The Heartwood Institute have delivered a new sonic delight that is a stunning achievement for its creator.

Over the course of its 30 sonic ‘chapters’, “The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy” takes the listener on a journey of instrumentally driven suspense and revelation. It takes the listener on a journey that alternates between the kind of sound pictures that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would compose to accompany the roster of kids/adults suspense/sci-fi/horror tv that flooded the homes of millions in the 1970’s; takes a few floral segues into Maypole/Morris Dance territory that would make Lord Summerisle himself believe the apples would grow this year without recourse to ritual slaughter; via a few kraut-y drones and a bagful of Boards of Canada inspired gently disturbing electronica. This keeps the listener always slightly off-balance and each piece is rarely long enough to ever begin to wear out its welcome. Sequencing is critical to these types of ventures and here it is expertly handled to create a story in sound that has coherence and a wordless narrative that breathes and speaks to the active listener. At its denouement you a have a remarkable sense of satisfaction that you have been on a worthy trip and are left pondering what the next adventure will bring to the table.

With this release Sharp has transcended his roots and moved up a level; developing a hybrid that does not cosily sit in one genre but pinches liberally from many to serve up an intriguingly complex and restless world that I am sure does the source material much service. I am off to find a copy of the book now. Don’t wait up, I may be gone for some time.

Available right now from The Heartwood Institute bandcamp on download.

18 Jan 2016

PAUW - Macrocosm Microcosm

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Since their formation in 2014, Netherlands based PAUW has been in high festival demand, playing everything from the Liverpool Psych Fest, VOID Fest, Lisbon Psych Fest, and PLAY as well as opening for Temples, Elephant Stone, and Kasabian. Like Elephant Stone, PAUW is putting out positive, upbeat psych, but it’s clear from first listen how they’ve managed to climb so quickly. So in late 2015, the band offered up their studio debut, “Macrocosm Microcosm,” and it’s proven worth the wait. For a relatively young band, PAUW is impressively tight and dynamic, and “Macrocosm Microcosm” is flush with layers upon layers of prog-infused psych. They sound like they’ve been playing together since their influences reigned – namely late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Of course, they picked up a few modern trends, channeling vocally dream pop airiness and falling into heavy fills.

Upon first listen, I was struck most by the positive vibes that PAUW puts out there; despite the sometimes baroque passages, PAUW is incredibly upbeat, even lyrically. Perhaps, it’s more a reflection of my usual listening, but the overall attitude is refreshing and infectious. Standout track, “Today Never Ends,” grooves around a lush progression and wandering synth line, complete with snappy rhythm-work and chimes. All of which ebbs nicely toward “Visions,” which showcases the band’s ability to create interesting and catchy songs, a skill, especially here, akin to their former tour mates Elephant Stone.

“Abyss” is a bit of the shift for the album; the six-minute song takes its time to build and, arguably, continues to build throughout the first verse. While still propulsive in its rhythms – notably, the bass carries everything here – “Abyss” is more inclined to minor resolutions, as opposed the distinctly major-sounding tracks surrounding it. Toward the end of the album, it’s a welcome reminder that PAUW is not a one-trick act.

For vinyl or digital copies, there are a few links from the band directly for EU buyers. As for the US or elsewhere, check good record shops – or Amazon at a pinch. And if you’re in or near the Netherlands in the coming months, they’re playing several shows; see them!

Highly recommended.

16 Jan 2016

The Active Listener Sampler 39

You've been waiting a little longer than usual, but we're confident that you'll think it's been worth the wait for our latest sampler. It's our first (and hopefully not last) to feature artwork by the very talented Nick Taylor. You should all check out his other works here.

As always, you're welcome to download and stream for free, or make a small Paypal donation to show your support for what we do - these are put towards our running costs.

This month we're featuring the following stellar tracks:

1. Kontiki Suite - My Own Little World 04:28 2. Gareth Davies - Slumbering Green 03:14 3. Wax Machine - Watermelon 02:38 4. The Most - Gatecrashers 02:29 5. Peter Stringer-Hye - Throw Away The Day 04:19 6. Juleah - Sommertraum 05:16 7. Exiles - Search Lights 03:20 8. Klaus Johann Grobe - Baby lass uns sein 04:35 9. Lejonsläktet - Den Enda Historien II 09:20 10. Jack Ellister - A Hunter Needs a Gun 05:57 11. Kosmo-0 - Just Let Go 05:40 12. Red Cosmos - Ode To A Beatnik 04:17 13. Royal Atlas - Lost Landlords 02:26 14. Das Raumpiloten - La Situation Dangereuse 07:19 15. Merrin - Outro (End Credits) 05:39

Get it here!:

15 Jan 2016

Lejonsläktet - Den Enda Historien EP

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Swedish duo Lejonsläktet first came to our attention with their Trouble in Mind 7" "Väderkvarn", although they've been recording together since 2008, with their quirky psych-pop / acid-folk debut "In och ut" also freely downloadable on their Soundcloud page. But before you head off there, you should really check out their most recent EP which is really the place to start.

"Den Enda Historien" was recorded especially for the opening ceremony of the 2015 Urkult festival in Näsåker, Sweden, and is also available as a free download, although it's begging for a physical release.

Where earlier releases have been characterised by the duo's fragile Swedish-language vocals, the three tracks that make up "Den Enda Historien" comprise an instrumental suite of sweeping kosmische, designed to be listened to in wide-eyed wonder. Solar winds are effortlessly summoned by waves of vintage synths, while sequencers emulate the twinkling of stars in a way that conjure half-forgotten, nostalgic images of shoddy spacecraft from 1970s BBC productions.

The ambient Radiophonic washes of the first track give way to a propulsive Krautrock groove for the EP's main section, before those stars are reawakened for the closer's hypnotic calm.

It's a lovely, short EP, brimming with ideas, and a perfectly executed example of a lot of the things that we LOVE about the seventies here at the Active Listener. Aperfect synthesis of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, vintage Krautrock and "Force Majeure" era Tangerine Dream, without ever sounding like it's borrowing too heavily from any one source. Wonderful.

Free download / stream here:

14 Jan 2016

Our Solar System - In The Beginning of Time Premiere

Dungen's Mattias Gustavsson is a busy chap. Aside from his activites in Dungen, he has his fingers in a number of other pies, the most interesting of which is the enormous psychedelic / kosmische / prog ensemble Our Solar System (or Vårt Solsystem in the Swedish tongue).

Our Solar System is following up its excellent 2013 debut on Beyond Beyond is Beyond with "In Time", a brand new full length due on March 25 (which you can pre-order here).

Today we're premiering the epic, side-length track "In The Beginning of Time". Have a listen through the Soundcloud widget below while you read what Ryan Muldoon from Revolt of the Apes had to say about the band's new project:

"There would seem to be something playful, and possibly deceptive, about the title of Our Solar System’s second album, “In Time.” It’s a phrase that, whether in a musical or even an appropriately astrological sense, indicates confines and regular rotations, even the absence of the abnormal. Yet “abnormal” could be the axis around which all planets in the Our Solar System galaxy revolve. For an album that so effortlessly delivers trance states in sound, the effect of “In Time” on the listener is likely to be one of orbiting far beyond those confines and regular rotations, toward a delirious detachment from the ticking trap of time.

“In Time” is essentially the work of thirty hands, creating two side-length tracks and forty-four minutes of sonic energy that serves as a vehicle to reach peak experience, alternately arriving and departing from control and abandon.

“In the Beginning of Time” is the title of side one, and appropriately, the twin engines of jazz and kosmische that power Our Solar System’s flight are apparent from the very start. Saxophone merges with synth, as a bass line slowly, stoically stands behind, ready to assist the emerging journey. “In the Beginning of Time” feels like an invocation, and to be clear, it is absolutely nothing less. Our Solar System seem interested in building bridges between worlds, and not just the already quite connected worlds of jazz, progressive rock and psychedelia – labels that represent the previously mentioned confines and regular rotations to which “In Time” pays little heed. Twelve minutes in to “In the Beginning of Time,” such barriers have fallen away, scorched by the altitude and free trajectory of Our Solar System’s flight. “At the Edge of Time” is the album’s cosmic co-conspirator, slightly longer, slightly odder, and slightly more seductive, in part given the mantra-like vocals that provide calm contrast to the musical meteor shower that’s crashing around them. This is the sound of Our Solar System at their astrological apex – exploratory, transcendent and joyous.

Within the confines of time, it’s appropriate to refer to “In Time” as an interstellar jazz-rock album, and an extraordinary one at that. Despite it’s title, you may come to believe that the true home of “In Time” is a place outside time’s confines, floating in space, surrounded by infinite stars and sounds, projecting an indefinable sound that’s boundless and beautiful."

12 Jan 2016

Prana Crafter - Rupture Of Planes

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From the superb Deep Water Acres label (also home to recent splendid albums from United Bible studies and Raising Holy Sparks ) comes the sophomore album from Prana Crafter, essentially Washington Woods guitarist William Sol. As with Prana's impressive self-titled début this album is mostly entirely written and performed by the man himself, this time around aided by Chris Shealy on drums and with additional lyrics by Tara Sol. Recorded in the vast forestlands of his home, the album bleeds rustic charm and backwoods magic; Sol is a highly accomplished and deeply emotive artist who deserves a wide audience for his fusion of acoustic wonder and fearsome blasts of acid tinged psych guitar, 'Rupture Of Planes' should surely be the album to afford this much deserved recognition.

'Forest at First Light' opens the album with delicate, finger picked acoustics, Sol's plaintive and warm vocals entering to add a shimmer of Mercury Rev and early Neil Young to proceedings before the familiar fiery bursts of fuzz guitar enter and send the song skywards. It's a heart stopping moment and encapsulates the sheer vibrancy and life that is inherent in Prana Crafter; this music breathes, bleeds and lives. Closing with Sol's fragile voice repeating the refrain 'one can never really stay' it is a hugely evocative opener to an equally atmospheric album. 'Diamond Cutter of the Jagged Mountains' merges melancholy and solitary acoustic notes with swathes of burning, molten guitar that hovers crackling and twisting over the steady rhythm of the drums and the growing synth strings. Echo and feedback shimmer around massed waves of six string attack, recalling both Tenderness of Wolves era Six Organs Of Admittance and Arc/Weld period Neil Young. This is a guitar album, make no mistake. Next, title track 'Rupture of Planes' is a reflective and highly melodic piece of classic psych that soaks up the darkest of Americana and adds the heartbreaking sheen that Prana Crafter effortlessly cloak their music in. Following this, 'Moksha of Melting Mind' starts with waterfalls of cascading notes over which heavily distorted guitar and insistent bass drive ever forward into a swirling psychedelic dream, guitar lines spiralling and echoing through the woods, across the hills and into the forests. There is almost something ritualistic about Prana Crafter; something of a ceremony around their music as it builds into both fury and beauty.

'Tara, Do You Remember the Way' by contrast is a gorgeous reverb drenched, late night ballad. Both haunting and affecting, one can almost picture the vast star filled skies overhead; this music conjures pictures and landscapes. 'Treasure In A Ruin' begins with carefully picked, chiming notes and an ominous, deep and distorted guitar melody; the veritable calm before the storm, something approaching in the air and the rustling of the trees. Keyboard and strings glisten and layer, building the sense of controlled tension and anticipation as the storm passes by with shudders of guitar and growing, unsettling drones. In amidst the fury and the tension however, as always with Sol's music, there is an overarching beauty, just as there is in the nature he surrounds himself with when writing and recording his music. 'Dharma Dripping Lotus' is a meditative and gentle flickering candlelight; acoustic guitar cascading and looping around melodic runs and a hazy, oscillating background of strings. The skies darken with synth notes and hugely exciting, corrosive bursts of guitar until the sun appears again with organ and a Floydian sense of warmth and reflection.

'Vessel' is a beautiful and heartrending slice of autumnal magic (Sol's voice is a large part of this; the man can bring tears to your eyes with a simple line or sentence) whilst 'Birth Of Blooming Thunder' evokes the sound of standing under a thundercloud as the sky and land crackles and vibrates around you, various guitars employed in seamlessly layering the growing hubris and storm. Next, 'Fog Has Lifted' reassures, another late night gem of gentle, nostalgic and warm melancholy which is then followed by 'Prana Crafter's Abode', a seriously atmospheric, twinkling mood piece that drifts and flows carefully and deliberately towards a lovely, light of dawn ending. The album closes with 'Mudra Of The Mountain Throned' which combines solemn and processionary guitar arpeggios and organ with huge flares of Earth style acid guitar in the most thrilling and, again, alive ending to an album that as a whole stands as a significant achievement; very few people are making music as ambitious, genuine and essential as this.

Echoing from the forests of Washington this then is the sound of Prana Crafter; your life and record collection is all the poorer for not seeking this out. Take a walk into the trees and inhale the smell of the pines and the evergreens, surrender to the Rupture Of Planes.

Available now as a CD in a beautiful gatefold sleeve from Deep Water Acres and to stream at Prana Crafter's Bandcamp page:

9 Jan 2016

Lunar Grave - Mirror of the Woods

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Portland, Oregon’s Lunar Grave is purposefully mysterious; the little social media they use will testify to that, if the album art or names of their albums and songs don’t imply it strongly enough. Rarely is the purposeful mystery equal to the listening experience, but, since my first listen a few years back, Lunar Grave has only deepened the intrigue; I know little more about them now than I did then – and not for lack of looking.

Almost entirely instrumental throughout their catalog – “NAGRA 2” has sparse vocals on a track or two – Lunar Grave has thrived since 2010 at building frenetic, free form communal rock that feeds directly off the fervor with which its rotating members strain their instruments. Currently, Lunar Grave boasts only two members and a long list of past members – which only adds to the mystery – but, no matter how many are or were involved, they’ve never disappointed. Their latest, “Mirror of the Woods” is no different. However, it is their longest release (considering number of tracks, at nine) and one of their most dynamic.

The songs here feel a bit different from earlier works, more coherent and aware of the arc of each composition while still holding onto that ambiguity between polished and improvised. There’s a sense of immediacy, too, when album starter, “House of Domber,” kicks in. The players waste no time building to the leads; so by that notion, their implied improvisations take on a more polished and edited feel. Whether song or album came first, the eponymous track is a telling track choice to summarize (if that’s what eponymous track are supposed to do) the scope and goal of this particular album. The song spends its last half meditating upon a comparatively simple riff with muted flourishes. It could merely be coincidental, but the lull is central – at half the album’s length – I think, to the album’s success. Lunar Grave is very much a tailored, improvisational band. Songs often seem to start in medias res – and, so, this calm, meditation must be there for a reason. Whatever its purpose, it serves as respite to the album’s exuberant halves.

Lunar Grave rides high upon the same wave of behemoths like Carlton Melton, Dead Sea Apes, Evening Fires and the Cosmic Dead, but, especially in their early albums, they have favored a rural, lo-fi and experimental element that rarely appears in the heavy psych genre.

Most of Lunar Grave’s releases appear in digital or tape format only, but you can get a recently pressed CD copy of the excellent “Prismatic Earthship” (2013) from Paradigms Recordings. “Mirror of the Woods” is available from the band’s Bandcamp page, where you can listen to and purchase their entire catalogue – all of it at once for a very fair price.

Highly recommended.

7 Jan 2016

Dogbowl – Zone of Blue

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Simply put, Stephen Tunney is a surrealist. For decades now, the artist also known as Dogbowl has been employing his finely tuned and carefully cultivated sense of the absurd to create works of art that are positively sublime. Previous efforts, such as “Tit! An Opera” and “Flan” had their own librettos; each album telling stories that were simultaneously affecting and horrifying.

“Zone of Blue” is Dogbowl’s first album in a decade and it is once again an opera of sorts. And while the story of an astronaut crash landing on Saturn is a bit more convoluted and fragmented than previous efforts (the liner notes tell the details), as a whole it is more than satisfying and a very welcome return by one of the great oddballs of the 80s and 90s underground.

For the most part, arrangements are basic: guitar, bass and drums. Complexity is more implied by a haze of reverb and the occasional weird guitar effect. But mostly it’s Dogbowl’s way with a melody, his singular delivery, and his weird, playful lyrics that pull the listener in to this very peculiar world.

For instance, “I Love You, I Love You” gushes childlike imagery that seems to spray from the same vein tapped by Syd Barrett and Robyn Hitchcock:

“You have a propeller attached to your hat 
It spins around and I like that 
The way you fly in the sky 
I’m such a lucky guy to have a helicopter girl…”

In “Saturnian Soap Opera” the narrator crash lands on Saturn where he encounters “A girl with a megaphone head (who) wore a dress that was ruby red…” as a wobbly saxophone weaves through the verses. The overall effect comes off like a 10-year-old David Bowie who has heard about sex, but isn’t really sure what it is.

Another highlight is a cover of the classic Robert Johnson blues song "Love In Vain." It’s given a sparse, percussive arrangement that, ironically, doesn’t feature any percussion instruments; just what sounds like a single guitar being played by tapping the strings with a drumstick or some such thing. It’s a technique that brings out lots of beautiful, subtle harmonics and helps underscore some of the anxieties in the lyric.

For those of you who are already fans, this is the Dogbowl you already know and love. And if you’ve never heard the man’s music before, “Zone of Blue” is actually a good place to start. Dip your toes in here before diving headlong into any of his classic (and sadly underheard) Shimmy Disc releases.

The LP comes with a CD version, some snazzy artwork, and a booklet, which contains both notes from Canadian poet J.C. Brouchard, and the very surreal story of the album (as alluded to above) written by Dogbowl, himself.

You can stream or purchase here:

5 Jan 2016

The End - From Beginning to End (Four Disc Box Set)

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Though they only released one studio album in their short lifetime, UK psych pop outfit The End were unusually prolific in the studio - prolific enough to warrant this attractive, new four disc box set chronicling their complete (or near complete) studio activities.

The End's sole album "Introspection" constitutes disc two of this set and is now regarded as a minor (major to many) classic of UK psych, despite being virtually ignored on its original release. It's been written about extensively elsewhere by writers far more eloquent than I, so all I'll say about it here is that it's one of the very best of its ilk, and if you haven't discovered it already, you're missing out bigtime. Presumably the majority of you are familiar with "Introspection" though, so let's turn our attention to the contents of the other three discs here, "In The Beginning", "Retrospection" and "The Last Word". Originally compiled and released (on vinyl only) by Tenth Planet between 1996 and 1999, the majority of material on these three discs is officially on CD for the first time here.

"In The Beginning" sounds like the early works of a lot of bands of the era. Searching for their own identity in a rapidly evolving scene that sees them try their hand and beat, mod and R&B, these early recordings are promising but unspectacular. Glyn Johns liked what he heard though, and called in Rolling Stone Bill Wyman who took the band under his wing and produced the works contained on discs two through four here (as well as co-writing the band's classic single "Shades of Orange"). "Retrospection" contains unreleased material recorded during the "Introspection" sesssions, as well as sundry singles from the same timeframe, and shows a much more confident band with even the most casually off-the-cuff performances here boasting superb harmonies and interesting arrangements. It certainly doesn't sound like a disc of offcuts, with plenty of strong material and only a few overlaps with "Introspection" tracks, which are alternate mixes that are intriguing enough to warrant their inclusion.

Things really heat up with "The Last Word" though. Consisting of tracks recorded between 1969 and early 1970, this really does feel like a lost album, and a particularly good one at that. Opener "Son of Lightning" has a great late Beatles feel to it, along the lines of the Tremeloes circa "Master" and "(Call Me) Number One" with flurries of flute that suggest Traffic as another influence. It's also much heavier than anything found on the previous three discs, with some nice doomy proto-prog moves on the dramatic "Second Glance" incorporating the band's strong vocal harmonies comfortably, with a claustrophobic, multilayered climax that reminds this listener of the Pretty Things' "Parachute". As a propsed album, it's perhaps one or two tracks short of meeting the consistent high quality found on "Introspection", but those are some very big shoes to even consider filling, and compared to other artists of the era's released work, this is very, very fine indeed.

"From Beginning to End" is an essential portrait of a band that could have made it big if things had aligned slightly differently for them, and it's an absolute steal for the single disc price being asked. Available here (UK/EU) or here (US).

3 Jan 2016

Rare Tintern Abbey Acetates Turn Up On YouTube

Here's a fascinating YouTube discovery.

Tintern Abbey's "Vacuum Cleaner / Beeside" single on Deram has long been regarded as one of the UK's finest psychedelic singles. Nothing else was released by the band during their short lifespan, but rumours persisted of further acetate recordings made by the band. Thanks to YouTube user Mick Rathe, these acetates are now available to be enjoyed by all. No idea how Mick came by these recordings, but it'd be great to know!

It'd be great to see an official vinyl / CD / digital release of these, but in the absence of such a release, it's a real pleasure to be able to hear these at all - thanks Mick!

These are all of the know recordings by Tintern Abbey, recorded in 1967 and 1968 - eleven tracks in total, and something of a treasure trove.

1. Beeside
2. Vacuum Cleaner
3. How Do I Feel Today
4. Do What You Must
5. It's Just That The People Can't See
6. Naked Song
7. Black Jack
8. Snowman
9. Tanya
10. Snowman (Alternate Take)
11. Busy Bee (Demo Version Of Beeside)

Stream here: (some users have encountered problems on mobile devices, but no such problems seem to exist on desktop computers).

Baron - Torpor

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

While not the first full length release for British four-piece Baron, “Torpor” for many, will be an introduction. And it is quite the handshake. Self-described as “Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral Kraut-Drone-Lettuce Rock” – at least in part, seriously – Baron is a powerhouse of sprawling, long-form songs, each tinged with a brand of old world gothic and baroque arrangements. There’s a peculiar tinge to each track here that simultaneously sounds contemporary (think post rock, prog, and doom) while channeling an older philosophy, classicisms.

In everything I’ve read around this album, the reviewer or promoter mentions Talk Talk, who in much the same way maintained a balancing act between the old and the new. Likewise, Baron has done so incredibly, maintaining a rigorous standard of full builds and orchestral arrangements.

The longest track on “Torpor,” “Stry” (which features Wolf People’s Joe Hollick on guitar), is a masterpiece of atmospheric rock. Free form and ambient at first, “Stry” culminates in unabashed heaviness that retains its logic and melody. Alex Crispin’s ghostly, baritone vocals recall a devotional hymn in its simplicity and plaintiveness. The balance of impressionism – airy organs and light rhythms – and spaced out riffs is precise, coming on perfectly near the album’s middle.

In part secretly record in Purton Green, one of the few standing medieval halls in the UK, Baron has certainly tapped into a timeless eeriness that can only be present in old buildings, ruins and graveyards. 

After so many wonderful listens, I cannot withhold a high recommendation here. Highly recommended.

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

1 Jan 2016

Paolo Spaccamonti - Rumors

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Paolo Spaccamonti is a new name to me, but with collaborations with Ben Chasny and Damo Suzuki to his name, he clearly has some pedigree, and his third solo album "Rumors" is a very interesting listen indeed.

An instrumental album that broadly straddles post-rock, experimental and psychedelia without sounding like it really subscribes to the conventions of any of these genres, "Rumors" is one of the most diverse and effective instrumental albums that I've heard in a long time, a skulking malevolent presence with moments of surprising beauty and humanity.

The opening / title track is one of the more immediate moments here, with a simple piano part (reminiscent of Mogwai's "Les Revenants") underpinning a memorable, creepy bass line. "Bonnie & Bonnie" is similarly carried by its bassline, although this is warmer, maintaining a playful sense of mystery before being swallowed whole by a crescendo of guitars which segue straight into "Croci / Flamme"s semi-industrial maelstrom.

There are moments of quiet contemplation here too, with the mournful strings on "Io ti Aspetto" being particularly lovely. It's a perfectly paced and sequenced album, allowing the mood to ebb and flow at just the right times to maintain and release suspense. I often find that instrumental albums get a little repetitive, but there's a lot going on under the surface here which keeps me coming back for more, and I'm still uncovering new layers on each listen.

Not one for listeners who are looking for an immediate fix then, but if you're looking for something with a little more substance that you can really spend some time with, this is outstanding.

Vinyl and CD available here, or stream here: