31 Mar 2016
My Autumn Empire - Dreams of Death and Other Favourites
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Benjamin Thomas Holton's My Autumn Empire have been around for a wee while now, as I'm sure a number of you will be aware, but I confess dear reader that this is the first time that their paths have crossed with mine. As such I'm not well placed to comment on how this sits within their discography, but judged entirely on its own merits, this is one of the most intriguing releases that I've heard for quite some time.
Holton cites M.R James shadow people as an influence on the songs contained with "Dreams of Death..." (chillingly so on "Black Shape"), as well as the works of Robert Aickman. “The idea for this album first came about sometime during winter as I was reading Robert Aickman shorts late into the night. In ‘The Fetch’ especially, it was the eeriness of the familiar yet slightly obscured surroundings that lull you into a false sense of security - a feeling like all of this could fix itself - before the inevitable disturbing happening knocks you completely off guard” Holton explains in the album's press release.
You're probably expecting this to come across as some sort of spooky Hauntology release from what you've read here so far, and while there is certainly some shared ground texturally and thematically, this is a much more organic, folk-rooted release than anything you're ever likely to see released on the Ghost Box label. Every song on "Dreams of Death.." could be stripped down to acoustic guitar and vocal only and retain its chilling atmosphere, but it's the attention to finer, textural details that really makes this stand out from its competition.
They all generally start from the same point - well crafted, lyrically compelling songs with an earthy acoustic guitar accompaniment, but from there they take some very interesting stylistic detours. Holton has a great ear for vintage synthesizers, and "Dreams of Death..." is absolutely smothered in some of the most gorgeous vintage synth-tones that you'll hear this side of Tangerine Dream. He also has a flair for the dramatic that sees a number of these songs build to unexpectedly furious crescendoes, notably on epic opener "The Following" which comes across as a much more old-world take on the 'computers-in-woodland-clearings' approach that Grandaddy excelled at fifteen odd ears ago. The way that these synths coexist amongst the music's more organic textures is hugely appealling to this listener's ear. Think Floyd's dark 1975-1977 era, with traces of the UK's more progressive alternative rock artists - Radiohead, Doves, Elbow - and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's on offer here.
This is a gorgeous record. Mysterious and laden with memorable imagery, there's a sense of so much more beneath the surface, but at the same time there's an immediacy that ensures a visceral connection with the listener from the very first listen, drawing you further in as its secrets are slowly revealed.
Full stream and digital download are available through the link below, while the vinyl is available here (UK/EU) and here (US).
30 Mar 2016
Ocean Music - Little Bones Video Premiere
Active Listener favourites Ocean Music (who released one of the best albums of 2015) are back with the follow up to that glorious album, and as a real treat today we're premiering the video for the album's teaser track "Little Bones".
The video is directed by Ariel Abrahams, and perfectly compliments the cathedreal beauty of Richard Aufrichtig's music. Check it out below.
Ocean Music II - Songs from the City is due digitally and on vinyl April 26, and we couldn't be more excited. Find out more or pre-order here.
29 Mar 2016
The Diamond Family Archive - November MMXV
Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz
The Diamond Family Archive may sound like a grand group full of storied musicians, but it’s actually a single fellow named Laurence Collyer. He hails from Brighton in the south of England, and writes, records, and produces his own songs through his own label.
He also likes to release covers, such as the ones found here on "November MMXV". You may recognize the fragile, banjo/organ driven “The Way I Feel” from the lips of legendary British folk rockers Fairport Convention, but it’s actually a Gordon Lightfoot song. Collyer definitely approaches it from a different angle, as evidenced by the dappled picking of a banjo and the warm washes of organ that paint this cover with rainbows. “Eight Miles High” is majestic in it slowness, and its pensive beauty draws you into its mystery. A classic song that is more than eight miles from its Byrdsian source, devoid of any Rickenbacker guitars. “Blues Run the Game” is a Jackson C. Frank song that’s been performed by many of the greats, including Simon and Garfunkel and Nick Drake. This is a song I feel I should recognize, and yet it escapes me. Perhaps it was Sandy Denny’s version, or I heard it in passing when I was drowning in Nick Drake. It’s lovely, what else can I say? Laurence not only has the excellent taste to pick these songs, he also has the skills to back it up with a great voice and accomplished musicianship. “Pussywillows Cattails” is another Gordon Lightfoot song, and one I do not know. It is shimmering and magical and hushed in its delivery. The final cover is from Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”. This is simple and straightforward, with softly played organ and quietly strummed guitar.
"November MMXV" is a wonderful, satisfying EP, showing off the skills of this artist to his great advantage. He has a wonderful affinity for this material and I look forward to hearing more from him.
Check out Laurence's monthly 2015 EP releases here, available as name your price downloads.
27 Mar 2016
Moongazing Hare - Wild Nothing
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
Denmark's Moongazing Hare, the ongoing project of David Folkmann Drost, has released several albums of subtle yet striking psych beauty since emerging in 2009, not least last year's 'Changing Tidelines' (which featured musical interpretations of journal and blog entries from an online friend) and 2014's superb 'Under Sundayland Lights'. Folkmann Drost describes his music as 'desperately home made and mostly well-intentioned' which may be true but also belies the panoramic and rich detail that is contained therein. He also states that 'Wild Nothing' 'has been long in the making and is finally being released digitally, so as to get it behind me'. We should be glad that he has done so as this is an album that, upon even first listen, will find a comfortable and permanent home in your heart.
Opener 'Slow Release' begins with the glow of harmonium and the chime of dulcimer as Folkmann Drost's warm and affecting vocals emerge out of the darkness like city lights at night. Reminiscent of the wide-screen and evocative works of United Bible Studies (with whom David has played), this is a truly heartstopping and impressive introduction to the album. 'Wit's End' circles into view on bowed strings and reverberating drones, a sense of unease compounded by bursts of fiery, molten guitar that sound like comets streaking across the sky. This is thrillingly effective and quite unexpected. The album's title track follows, delicately picked acoustic guitar accompanied only by Folkmann Drost's voice and a shimmer of glacial e-bowed guitar; this is a quiet yet powerful piece of affecting psych folk that Bonnie Prince Billy would be proud to have written. Indeed, there is something of a similar feel on 'Wild Nothing' as on Will Oldham's classic 'The Letting Go'; a wintry yet warm air of melancholy beauty. Next, 'Dust On Your Breath' follows in a similar vein, echoed guitar expertly framing a gentle lament that builds with layered vocal harmonies and a heartbreaking sense of beautiful resignation. 'No Wild Things' is a tense and reflective soundtrack to a spoken word piece, a glistening landscape of twinkling lights and stillness.
Following this, 'The Grand Banks Empty' is a reverb drenched confessional; at times on the album it almost feels like Folkmann Drost is in the room with you and this sense of the personal and intimate only benefits the emotional impact of the songs. 'April's Fever' is a tapestry of organ, gently distorted guitar and percussion that creates a warm processionary and stately waltz that seems to herald the coming of spring and the return of the light; hope bleeding out of each step. 'Into Poppy Fields' utilises backwards field recordings and synth notes to develop a wildly and pleasingly disorientating hallucinatory swirl whilst 'Just Can't Handle It' is a masterfully heartrending, banjo led piece of lonely Americana. The folk inflected 'The Salmon Wives' is an album highlight, xylophone picking out a delicate melody as recorder and mandolin merge in a timeless and magical manner. The album ends with 'True Comfort', the swell of harmonium and chatter of voices taking us almost back to where we began, Folkmann Drost's multi layered vocals creating a truly hymnal effect. A sense of catharsis and emotional healing is inherent as a lone Irish whistle adds to the windswept atmosphere; it feels as though this song could be being sung at the edge of the world.
Moongazing Hare are very much a part of the growing new wave of underground psych that is currently bestowing untold musical riches upon us, alongside fellow travellers such as United Bible Studies, David Colohan and Trappist Afterland. This then is an album of rare beauty and fragile grace that comes highly recommended. Wait till dusk, dim the lights and travel into some wild nothing.
Available now at Moongazing Hare's Bandcamp page. Do investigate their superb back catalogue whilst you are there.
25 Mar 2016
Junkboy - Fulfil Premiere
Lovely, pastoral folkadelic duo Junkboy follow up 2014's excellent "Sovereign Sky" LP, with a brand new lathe cut 7" single as part of the 454545 series, a run of seven inch singles cut by 3.45RPM’s head honcho, Phil Macy.
Macy also releases his own music under the guise of Azimuth Coordinator, and Junkboy's Hanscomb brothers took it upon themselves to reimagine two of his choicest cuts for this new 7".
Mik Hanscomb, one half of Junkboy, picks up the story, ‘we listened to Phil’s music and decided to build something around the mood the music evoked within us. Thus, Fulfil and Streets of Doubita paint sonic tone poems around meandering suburban roads during long hot summer days. The single is dedicated to those fellow heads who while away the hours playing Shenmue and listening to Turnstyles and Junkpiles on a loop forever’.
These lads can do no wrong as far as we're concerned and this is more of the good stuff - have a listen below.
You can order the 7" here.
Check out Junkboy on Bandcamp here, where you can hear the flip from this 7", amongst other delights.
Recommended if you like: Candidate, Nick Drake, Tunng.
24 Mar 2016
McGough & McGear - S/T
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
Here's an album that couldn't have been conceived at any other time; 1968's self titled McGough & McGear album, recorded at various 1967 sessions.
Following on from their work with George Martin as the Scaffold, Roger McGough and Mike (brother of Paul McCartney) McGear roped in all sorts of superstar guest help for this one: McCartney himself co-producing, and musical appearances from Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Graham Nash, Dave Mason and Gary Leeds. That alone would be enough to encourage investigation for a number of you, I'm sure, but it's the strength of the duo's material that really carries this album, with the bright lights and big names never in danger of outshining them.
They make an interesting, contrasting duo. McGough here displays his distinctly English poetic gifts with well a paced delivery that finds middle ground between Roy Harper's spoken monologues and the enjoyable absurdity of the Goons, the ridiculous and the poignant gracefully rubbing shoulders. McGear on the otherhand writes impeccable pop tunes, which coupled with Macca's production skills, make this a perfect period piece with just the right balance of full fledged tunes and accompanied poetry.
"So Much to Love" and "Ex-Art Student" are unmistakeably Beatlesque, with perfect harmonies and notable Hendrix input, while "Please Don't Run Too Fast" is a gentle, melodic lullaby which wouldn't have sounded out of place among the giants on Roy Harper's "Flat, Baroque and Berserk". Surprises lurk around every corner too, whether it be the jazzy maelstrom that "Basement Flats" descends into quite unexpectedly, or "Ex-Art Student"s diversion from Beatlesque popper to psychedelic sitar drone-fest.
It's a bit of a lost classic, embracing the most enjoyeble excesses of the sixties, and there's never been a better way to discover it than Esoteric Records' new reissue (unless you've got some serious coinage for a scarce original vinyl copy). Inside you'll find the full mono and stereo mixes on separate discs, remastered from the original Parlophone Records mastertapes, as well as extensive liner notes and a new interview with McGear.
Available here (UK/EU), and here (US).
23 Mar 2016
Hexvessel - When We Are Death
Reviewed by Joseph Murphy
Finnish psych rock outfit, Hexvessel, have just released their third full-length, “When We Are Death,” – their first for Century Media Records – after a string of EPs in recent years. Predominantly, Hexvessel has been – and still is – identified as players within the psych folk scene, but, this time around, there’s a definitive and propulsive rock element taking forefront, channeling prog and classic rock, much more so than, for example, 2012’s “No Holier Temple.”
For this outing, the band held a successful Pledge Music campaign, which, in addition to inherent costs, raised awareness and donations for the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation and the organization’s on-going forest preservation project. That should tell you a bit about the band, whose imagery and aesthetics often recall the ancient, mysterious and esoteric – not to mention black metal; their campaign rewards included amulets and elixirs – but it’s not, perhaps, as curated as other acts who present the same tropes. It’s clear to listeners – at least this one – Hexvessel cherishes atmosphere in their recordings, one that mirrors their surroundings, however you might interpret the word. It makes sense to keep those things safe: history, open spaces, culture, and natural environs; all of those things inform Hexvessel’s sound, which is sprawling, resonating, and – for lack of better words – earthly. Even as they explore new sounds – or bring new sounds to the forefront – at their core, this is still true. See the exceedingly atmospheric “Mirror Boy” or the shadowy and plaintive “Green Gold.”
The change of tone is immediately set with “Transparent Eyeball,” which, on top of its catchy, simple melody, a frenetic organ works alongside heartfelt vocals. “Earth Over Us” works similarly, though taking a searing surf-vibe as its launching point.
The lyrical content of “When We Are Death” holds the sometimes-disparate sounds here together well. Weaving together varying images of “stars spill[ing] on the forest floor” and “teeth of the mountain/body of the river,” singer Mat ‘Kvhost’ McNerney masterfully keeps listeners enthralled once again.
CD, Vinyl and Digital available here (UK/EU), and here (US).
22 Mar 2016
Night Beats - Who Sold My Generation
Reviewed by Mark Winkelmann
We long ago passed the peak time for band names and entered an era of ever shittier band names, so it is nice to find a band with a decent name that not only isn't an ugly mess of letters that look like a losing Scrabble hand, but actually in some way tells you what they are about. I'd heard the Night Beats name for a few years, usually after leaning into a DJ booth to inquire about what's playing. Their sound isn't immediately recognisable or catchy but they've proved popular with the sort of DJs who mainly play vintage sixties vinyl.
From Cream to Husker Du to, there's something about a good power trio that seems particularly satisfying. There's nowhere to hide. No room for makeweights. The small group allows the players to really get in sync with each other. There's no multiple guitarists or synth players so the sound isn't too cluttered. Most of those classic power trios had brilliant bass players who could do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of melody. The sort of plodding third rate bass players who can pass muster in larger bands wouldn't have the chops to fill in the sound for a top notch power trio. However, the more I listen to the Nights Beats the more I get the sense that the exact opposite is happening. All three members are hammering the same beat, not because this is all they can do but out of some monomaniacal focus on the riff, the beat, the one. This is their third album so it isn't a lack of musical ability. These are clearly good musicians who can all simultaneously turn on a dime when the riff must be replaced with another. But throughout I hear the floor toms and bass in synch, the cymbals splashing in sync with the guitars.
Night Beats are doing something akin to James Brown, stripping everything down and focusing on rhythm. Obviously though from a different musical starting point to the JBs. A few years ago Ugly Things did a big analysis of Freakbeat and found the unique feature was ditching the chorus as a musical break. At most, bands like Wimple Winch would have a short refrain that worked over, more or less, the same chord sequence. While not necessarily appealing on paper this meant the energy doesn't dissipate but instead relentlessly builds up. And this is what Night Beats do. They did it on their first album and they're doing it again here. On more or less every track. If your trick is to be relentless and focused you'd best follow through on that premise.
OK, not every track is identical but they are pretty consistent. The only significant departure is the opening track which mixes spoken voices and lead guitar soloing. There's a few overdubs and even guest musicians: a bit of harmonica on "Turn The Lights" and "Bad Love" has some honking sax and Seeds-like keyboards for added 60s frat band feel. "Last Train To Jordan" cops the drum beat from The Stooges "No Fun" as opposed to the simpler Velvet Underground style floor tom beat that dominates elsewhere here. Not that I'd compare the Night Beats to those bands, the guitars are more restrained, disciplined. Reminiscent of the tightly wound brittle phased sound of The Electric Prunes or The Feelies. Similarly the vocals aren't making much in the way of clear statements. While the album title might sound like a timely address to the disenfranchised youth of late period capitalism I can't make out much polemic or anything else. Always in service of the murky beat.
Of course the only downside is if you don't like this approach then there's not a lot of point hanging round in hopes the next song is more to your taste. But the murky, mysterious beat they keep pounding out is still pretty damn appealing to fans of both old and new psych.
"Who Sold My Generation" is available on digital, Vinyl and CD here (UK/EU) and here (US).
17 Mar 2016
Susan Matthews and Rainier Lericolais - Before I Was Invisible
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
From the superb Wild Silence label (always a guarantee of something beautiful and refined, both musically and in terms of presentation) comes this latest release from Susan Matthews and Rainier Lericolais, their third album together. Hailing from Wales, Matthews is perhaps best known as the creator and director of the independent Siren Wire label and for her experimental yet hugely powerful solo work. She is also a voracious collaborator with other musicians counting, amongst others, Nick Grey, Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, Yokna Patofa and now Lericolias within this circle. Rainier himself is known as an artist, performer, director and musician whose work hangs in the Centre Pompidou in Paris and who has previously teamed up with the esteemed likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Stephan Eicher and Sylvain Chauveau. For this recording the pair present three elongated pieces that sit together as a suite of sorts, an electronic requiem for ghosts.
The twenty five minute 'The Healer's Art' begins the album, as a crackle reminiscent of an old phonograph recording bleeds into a crystal pure drone, the sound of scraped and treated strings whistle by in the ether, a profound and melancholic sense of the sacred permeating throughout. The pitch bends eerily, there are ghost like presences in this music; quiet, determined wraiths that are in no hurry to reveal the reason for their return. Lovers of both Coil's 'Moon Music' and 'Musick To Play In The Dark' series as well as the windswept, bowed strings of composer Richard Skelton will find much to adore here. Solitary piano notes enter as an electric buzz and hum starts to become apparent. Although solemn and almost hymnal, this music is electric; a charge sparks, clicks and cracks across the piece. Long forgotten voices on an archaic vinyl recording play in the background, muffled but fighting for life as the piece purposefully unfolds and layers, the piano motifs become increasingly more central. Matthews's voice drifts into view, almost hushed as spooked brass and strings howl out into the void. Finally, warm organ notes blend with violin as Matthews recites what sounds like modern plainsong whilst vintage radio effects and voices seep into the present, spectral visitors from another era. This is an astonishing introduction, both haunted and haunting, a hugely atmospheric ambient work that stays with the listener long after the last note has rung out.
Next, 'Truth Past The Dare' reverberates into view, sounds and effects swirling forward and decomposing before us. Electronic glitches melt away and then return, floating into melancholic brass (which reminds this listener of John Cale's work on Nico's much underrated 'Camera Obscura' album) and Matthews ethereal, stretched vocal harmonies. Otherworldly and unique this is music for liminal spaces, for dusk or dawn; it is delicate and fragile and deserves rapt attention. Harmonium and chimes slowly and carefully enter to create a truly gorgeous mid section before brass and some very Coil-like electronics join for a heartbreaking and moving finale.
The final piece 'Your Ghost Moves With Me' begins with gossamer vocals that continuously layer upon each other, some playing backwards and drifting in and out of the speakers amidst a gentle buzz. The work quickly develops a choral and dreamlike quality; imagine the effect My Bloody Valentine achieve with guitars but with vocals instead. Percussion enters and leaves as looped strings and sounds appear quietly in the mix, as if hiding and biding their time. Then, the choir departs, the strings take centre stage and what sounds like a treated cello strides ominously into the mix amongst a whispering of spectral voices. This is a haunted house of a song; beautiful, melancholic, tortured and unsettling.
And then it is over and the listener can only wonder what it is he or she has just experienced and heard. One thing is certain, this is music that connects and affects the listener on a very deep level indeed. It is not ambient music in the sense of being background; when 'Before I Was Invisible' is playing you can focus on nothing else. Rainier states that with his work he wishes to grasp the elusive, a fleeting memory or a furtive gesture. I would suggest that with Susan Matthews and this album he has succeeded. This music captures something of a forgotten time, place or feeling; the ghost of a person who once was. Highly recommended.
Available now as a download or as a limited CD in a beautiful gatefold case, made with 100% recycled chipboard with artwork by Rainier Lericolais.
15 Mar 2016
The Great British Psychedelic Trip Revisited
It's been a long time coming, but "The Great British Psychedelic Trip Revisited" is finally ready. 13 independent psychedelic artists reinventing their favourite tracks from the iconic UK psych comp, and all available as a free / name your price download. Thanks to all of the artists who were game to take on these classic tunes - I'm sure you'll all agree that there are some great new versions here:
1. Adam Leonard - The Elf 02:26 2. Murmurs of Irma - Vacuum Cleaner 02:59 3. Dupont Circles - Tales of Flossie Fillet 04:18 4. Holy Contour - Created by Clive 02:22 5. Rob Clarke & The Wooltones - (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone 03:06 6. Signal to Noise Ratio - Magician 03:18 7. Telafonica - Beeside 03:38 8. Holy Glories - In Your Tower 03:02 9. The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies - (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone 02:53 10. The Sonic Mood Set - Father's Name Is Dad 02:50 11. Topos Locos - Come On Back 02:44 12. Wax Machine - Shades of Orange 03:12 13. The Ilk - Red Sky At Night 06:18
Special thanks to Martin Butler for sleeve art (www.martinrossbutler.com) and Adrian Elmer from Telafonica for mastering.
Stream or download right here:
14 Mar 2016
Dulls - Dulls S/T EP
Reviewed by Joseph Murphy
In recent years, psych, shoegaze and 90s-era indie rock have all been revisited, dismantled, and rebuilt but, every now and then, a band emerges from the wash with a refreshing take on the sound, recalling more than their idols’ guitar tones and teen angst. With their self-titled EP, out on limited tapes this past January, Philadelphia, PA’s Dulls treads some new ground over the course of four long-for-pop songs – hazy, doleful rock that recalls some current favorites and many past heavy rotations.
Though peers have often taken alternate routes, Dulls explores the subtler side – minimalist rather than maximalist (think Galaxie 500 or Black Tambourine) – and it works well for them as they, in turn, favor inventive structure and the natural voices of their instruments over oblique noise washes. Of course, Dulls is still willing to unleash a lead that drips with reverb and delay, but, as a whole, they pace themselves, welcoming punk bite and psych overtones into the fold, too. Throughout, they’ve stripped dark, atmospheric pop songs to their necessary parts. The four songs are rough in all the right ways – lo-fi, gritty, experimental – but prove themselves over continued listens with depth and warmth too.
The EP hinges upon a dynamic, explored between songs but also within songs or passages. The light, impressionist progressions are often off-set by hard-working bass lines; blissed, psych leads by lush, dream pop. Starter, “Clay” builds upon a hazy, melody with sonorous bass and drums but takes an interesting turn during its middle passage, utilizing drones to sustain the progression before returning in full force. Alternately, “Glow” strikes a different stance, immediate and direct from the start, almost dripping with punk swagger. Within this range, Dulls has found their balance, creating an impressive and promising debut.
“Dulls” is available digitally or on limited edition cassette (with download) from their Bandcamp page, where you can preview three songs.
Look for more from Dulls – and hopefully soon.
11 Mar 2016
Paul Roland - In The Opium Den: The Early Recordings 1980-1987
Reviewed by Nathan Ford
There's been a flurry of activity from Paul Roland over the last few years, with a new album or archival release surfacing every six months or so. Our Grey Malkin is something of an obsessive when it comes to all things Roland, but in something of a coup, I've managed to beat him to the punch and cover this latest archival wonder myself.
"House of Dark Shadows" hasn't had a chance to gather dust on the shelf, yet here's another archival release covering the same period, but they're two very different creatures.
"House of Dark Shadows" was the first exposure to Paul for many, and it makes sense to give people the chance to revisit the songs featured therein the way they originally discovered them.
"In the Opium Den" on the other hand stretches out the timeframe a little, covering recordings made between 1980 and 1987. Where "House of Dark Shadows" was a carefully compiled selection, this is a more complete overview, with two full albums, a generous mini-album, various singles, b-sides and EPS, and a few tasty outtakes from a never released second album. It also includes all eleven tracks from the original release of "House of Dark Shadows", although the five archival bonus tracks on the new version of "House..." are still unique to that release.
"In The Opium Den" is presented in reverse chronologcal order, so that the first disc kicks off with 1987's "Danse Macabre", which many rate as Roland's finest album. It's certainly a great album, which I'll discuss further a bit later on, but one gets a better idea of Roland's progression by starting off on disc two, so let's go ahead and do that.
Roland's 1980 debut "Werewolf of London" (originally credited somewhat anonymously to Midnight Rags) has quite the reputation, but has been hard to track down a legitimate copy of up until this point. Originally released in a limited run of 300 copies by a nineteen year old Roland who was unhappy with the end result, it was then picked up for wider release by Armageddon Records, giving Paul the opportunity to resequence and rejig the album into its ideal, finalised form, which is how it appears here. Its presence is enough to make "In the Opium Den" an essential purchase itself, and for those who are only familiar with the Edwardian Syd Barrett's later psychedelic pop opuses, this may prove to be a real surprise. Lashings of neo-psychedelia are already to be found here, but there's also a distinct new wave edge apparent on a number of tracks, not to mention the Gary Numan style synth-pop of "Brain Police". Roland's lyrical pre-occupation with the macabre (which has earned him a reputation as the psychedelic Edgar Allan Poe) is already well established here, as is his ability to augment even the most unlikely, literary references with irresistable pop hooks.
Disc two is appended with a further twelve tracks, including the marvelously spooky "The Old Dark House" (intended for a second album), and a number of excellent single / EP tracks. Particularly interesting here is the "Hot George" / "Oscar Automobile" single which is the purest expression of Paul's well documented Marc Bolan obsession - definitely Paul at his most glam.
Moving forward in time, the bulk of disc one is split between 1987's "Danse Macabre" and 1985's "Burnt Orchids". Dealing with these in chronological order "Burnt Orchids" sees Roland dealing in a much richer tapestry production-wise, bringing in a number of baroque instruments, providing an ideal match for Roland's historical lyrics. And finally, the "Danse Macabre" album consolidates all of the styles that Roland has previously dabbled with, along with a much stronger sense of neo-psychedelia. It's most likely his strongest set of songs too, with "The Great Edwardian Air-Raid" being credited in many circles as one of the earliest attempts at a steam-punk lyric, while "Gabrielle" and "Still Falls The Snow" have untapped chart-topper potential (although "Gabrielle" did rather well in some parts of Europe). Elsewhere, Paul shows an aptitude for prime keyboard-led psychedelia with an excellent cover of Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother" and the sublime, opiated gem "In The Opium Den".
There's a lot of music to digest here - 42 tracks spread over two packed discs - and it's rarely sounded better. An ideal Paul Roland primer and a total bargain - especially at the UK price.
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
10 Mar 2016
Ray Pierle - Time & Money
Reviewed by Josh Robertson
Ray "McKay" Pierle was the man behind one of my personal favorite albums, McKay's "Into You" a private press from 1978. Fans of McKay may know that Ray later had two solo albums, which were also privately pressed and kind of hard to find, featuring the next incarnation of the McKay group. Fortunately, Guerssen imprint Out-Sider is releasing a vinyl reissue of his first album, "Time and Money." It's quite a bit different than the lighter, folky, West Coast influenced McKay albums, going for a homebrewed, smoke-it-up party atmosphere with heavy riffs and fuzzed-out solos.
The album kicks off with "Roll Me Up," an upbeat rocker about, as Ray explains in the liners, life working during the week and recording and playing rock'n'roll in clubs on weekends. Definitely has that hazy, reefer cloud influence going in its favor, and Ray lays down some solid guitar solos. "Workingman's Blues" continues that theme with hard rocking bluesy melodicism. "Start Over" has a freewheeling, trippy atmosphere with some cool effects on Ray's vocals. "Pass It On" is a softer song, reminiscent of the earlier McKay material with it's CSN-styled harmonies. "And you only get more lonely when you're high..." go the lyrics, and there is a slight sense of despair overall. "Till The End of the Night" has some nice double-tracked acoustics and one of my favorite melodies on the album, and the leads are very much like Stephen Stills. "Wish I'd Always Feel This Way" with its Cream influenced strut and heavy wah-fuzz solos could qualify as the heaviest song on the LP. Another great song is "Madman Money" which is very dark and has more heavy riffs, and is about Ray's experiences getting paid for playing shows. "Livin' Them Lies" closes up the album, and has a fun, loose, and hard partying-atmosphere. Which might well sum up the vibe for the entire LP, most certainly heavier than the LP that came next, "Rhythm of the Highway."
As always the quality on this Out-Sider reissue is top notch, featuring comments on each track by Ray and full lyrics, and a photo of the group. The front cover artwork is also killer. If you are unfamiliar with Ray's music this is a great place to start.
Available here (UK/EU), or here (US).
7 Mar 2016
A Year In The Country - Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels
Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)
A Year In The Country is perhaps best known both for its superb and archival blog on all things wyrd and hauntological as well as its sister music imprint, which has released a variety of splendid releases by like minded souls such as Michael Tanner, United Bible Studies, She Rocola and last year's début album from A Year In The Country itself.
Concerned with Britain's more esoteric and uncanny hidden recent past, it came as a surprise when the blog site's frequent transmissions suddenly stopped last year. And now, just as mysteriously, they have recommenced, like a distant and crackly radio broadcast from another era. One of the first communiques was to inform about this, the second long player from A Year In The Country, of which is said; 'A study of the tales told/required to be told by the sentinels/senders that stand atop the land; a gathering of scattered signals plucked from the ether, cryptograms that wander amongst the airwaves, fading, tired and garbled messages which have journeyed from nearby or who knows where…the Airwaves set of audiological constructs are an exploration that begins with and via silent but ever chattering broadcast towers; their transmissions and sometimes secrets – the songs they weave from their own particular language and emanations'.
The album begins with 'The Chatter Amongst The Land', analogue synths creating a swirling and majestically icy symphony that recalls Bowie's 'Warszwa', an electronic clammer and muttering emanating like untold numbers of birds as old Albion awakens. It is an arresting beginning and curiously beautiful. This is followed by 'A Cracked Sky' which hovers into consciousness through a buzz of static, vintage keyboard whirrs and oscillating string sweeps to present an almost apocalyptic air. Aficionados of Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, The Caretaker, Eno and the Ghost Box label will find much to adore here. 'Night Mesh's urgent Morse Code electronic pulses and string stabs add a layer of frozen tension, a sense of something alien in the landscape watching us, waiting. The emphasis is on atmosphere and mood here, each piece carefully paced and constructed to conjure a certain sense or image for the listener. 'Flutter Once More' offers a more tranquil, Satie-esque ambience, a looped swell of strings playing just slightly in the distance as pulsating notes emerge from the air eerily crackling and echoing. As with Bowie's Berlin work and that of say, Popol Vuh or Eno, there is a distinct human connection and an ability to move and affect the listener, these are not clinical or lifeless pieces of electronica but are instead both hugely emotive and transportive. 'Fading From A Distance's glacial orchestration rises and falls and drifts in time to an inhuman heartbeat or a pulsating star (or indeed a lost radio signal) whilst 'Imparting Received's desolate piano and murmur of voices builds into a devastating piece of atmosphere that Paddy Kingsland (composer of 'The Changes') or the Radiophonic Workshop would be proud of. 'Song Of The Sentinels' brings a sense of dread and awe, the electrified hum and waves of strings accumulating to monolithic and disquieting effect. One can dream that the forthcoming TV adaptation of HG Wells 'War Of The Worlds' would have such a suitable soundtrack. 'Tales And Constructs' is a tapestry of chatter, effects and unease whilst the superbly titled 'They Have Departed Once More' shimmers and glistens like an electronic requiem or mass. 'To Be Sheltered's chiming piano motif adds a subtle warmth, banks of synth accentuating the rise and swell of the recurrent harmony before ending with the sound of a solitary radio transmission being sent out into the darkness. 'A Measuring's percussive jitteriness leads to the finale of 'For My Gentle Scattering', a heart-rending and epic symphony of strings, chilly drones and wintry beauty. And then there is silence, the transmission has ended; yet this album leaves behind a sense of wonder and mood that lasts for long afterwards.
A Year In The Country run their own small imprint to create artifacts of carefully constructed beauty and this album is no different. A triumph, it is hugely evocative, expansive and deserves to be widely heard and appreciated. They will continue to release such treasures regardless as this is a labour of love, however works as impressive as this should be recognised by as wide an audience as possible. Go out, sit, listen and watch for the sentinels.
You can hear a number of the album's key tracks here.
Available now, as with all A Year In The Country releases, in a variety of lovely, limited editions. A Dawn Edition includes a hand-finished white/black CDr in a textured recycled fold out sleeve with inserts and a badge whilst the Day Edition features a hand-finished white/black CDr in a ten page string bound booklet. The Dusk Edition includes a hand-finished all black CDr in a matt recycled sleeve with inserts (the back of one insert being hand signed and numbered) and the Night Edition box set contains an all black CDr, a twelve page string bound booklet, four badges, two stickers and a piece of unique artwork. Check out the various editions here.
5 Mar 2016
Happy Dagger - Happy Dagger S/T
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
Woah! 2016 is only two months old and the new 'must listen to repeatedly til I balance on the cusp of (in)sanity' releases are rolling in thick and fast.
Happy Dagger's self titled debut LP is a rolling together of two releases made by one man (an EP in 2014 and full length in 2015), Jesse Robertson, of late a resident of Portland, Oregon which as you all know has long been considered a hotbed of bohemian alchemy. I am happy to report that this reputation is only enhanced by this physical release which gathers all bar two of their recorded output from the previously digital-only releases.
Happy Dagger surf on the same cosmic waves as many a West Coast luminary and plenty from further afield sucking up as it does everything from classic psychedelic, pop-art-psych moves, Dub and House music to create a modern hallucinatory brew that is very much a now sound.
The opening three tracks are drawn from the first Happy Dagger EP. Recorded in 2014 these tracks find a writer still finding his voice but having a great time doing it. It's a more than satisfactory affair and sets up the remainder of the record nicely. "Indian Summer" is driven by a sweetly restrained echoing guitar motif and some almost 'new romantic' keys and drumbeats overlaid with some lovely laid back vocals. "Waves" follows and again has an understated West Coast charm that reminds, glows and smoulders rather than catches fire, though one suspects that this was the intended outcome. Components parts are being assembled and you feel notice is being served on these early tracks.
Now, whether Jesse Robertson had any sort of epiphany before recording the material that makes up the remainder of this record in 2015, (selections drawn from last years digital only "Pareidolia" release), is moot. What is certain is that the leap in quality of the songs and their construction is stellar. From this point onwards. Happy Dagger exchanges potential for a solar-flaring out into technicolour brilliance, nailing it time after time with some of the best hallucinatory psych-pop I have heard in recent times.
"Who's Waiting" begins the charge with its softly sung almost Gregorian opening giving way to some fabulous psych-pop with surf touches before riding out on the back of some very tasteful guitar breaks. "Comedown" follows and is all skewed stop-start rhythm and stabbed guitar chords overlaid with echoing effects that recall a slightly less anxious Morgan Delt. Robertson's vocals are smeared over this strange brew, blowing gently over the listener as he repeats the phrase "feels like we're coming down" over and over again whilst peals of guitar squall tilt and richochet around your ears. Top class.
"Mariposa" is instrumental - an endlessly refracting guitar riff being squeezed and phased and pulled around in a shaky orbit of a plaintive and similarly phased and drifiting drum patter, each passing revolution being tweaked sonially almost to the point of complete obliteration. I love it.
"U Won't C Me" is dream psych-pop par excellence with its splashing guitar progressions and blissfully soft focused vocals. It could easily step into the ring with more established names in the new psychedelic firmament and come out having struck a few lusty blows for its creator. A winner.
'Revolver' is great art-pop in the tradition of Pete Townshend and Brian Wilson, dragged into the bedroom chop-shop and refashioned for a new millennia, beautifully melodic, all lovely vocals and fabulous guitar fills - a real ear worm reverberating through your cranium like the softest bullet ever fired. It may be my favourite thing on the whole record. 'Phantom' is muscular and has that nu-psych feel, with its bold slashing power chords and endless phased cymbal splashes. Together, the pair of songs constitute one hell of a seismic double whammy.
'Pyramid' is a groove driven miniature and has some excellent deeply reverbed wah-wah guitar playing to take you along for a short detour into what once could have been deemed 'baggy'. Closing track 'Always' is trance-like, bubbling along on waves of oscillation and feedback before a dub-style beat and circular vocal chant emerges and permeates your consciousness like an aural anaesthetic. The words are indecipherable and to be honest it doesn't matter. This is a pure mood piece - 'sensi-dub' psych, sonically manipulated until twisting into a final section of beat driven Balearic 'placid casual' house music. Its a quite extraordinary ending to a quite extraordinary record.
Add in the fact that this vinyl run is beautifully presented in purple/white splatter vinyl is limited to 300 copies from the always hip label guys over at slyvinyl.com and you have the recipe for a genuine must-have. Get on board.
Available from Happy Dagger at: http://happydagger.bigcartel.com/ or Sly Vinyl at: https://store.slyvinyl.com
And the two digital releases are both available as name your price downloads here:
4 Mar 2016
Des Roses - Sideways, Strange Ways EP
Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz
Des Roses (who's debut EP we obssessed over here) hail from Nantes, France and inhabit the same musical space as vintage space pop/rockers such as Death and Vanilla. Their use of keyboards coupled with beguiling female vocals is intoxicating. Their Bandcamp page describes them as shoegaze and dream pop. The latter label is certainly correct, and they also occasionally trot out some ‘gazey goodness. Still, this hazy, dazey blissed out release rests squarely in the realm of space pop/rock, billowing with psychedelia and dreamy overtones.
Opening track “Tell Me When, Tell Me Where” is saturated with organ and synths, yet it also gets narrowed down at times to a single vocal with simple guitar and beats. “H.P.S” is the most like Death and Vanilla, dominated as it is by antique sounding organ. It also boasts some nice female/male vocals that float along with the other instruments. “Atlas - Marie Love” starts off with well-trodden riffs and improves dramatically as it moves forward. I especially like the keyboard work on this rather long piece, clocking in at over ten minutes. It meanders between quieter passages and soaring heights, and the band keeps it intriguing all the way through by mixing it up.
A short but enjoyable turn from this talented French duo. Available here as a name your price download:
1 Mar 2016
The Active Listener Sampler 40
It's taken a little longer than normal to put together the latest Active Listener Sampler, but we're sure that you'll agree that the wait was well worth it once you have a listen.
This month we feature some marvelous nostalgia inducing sleeve art by Timothy Meskers of White Candles and Garden Fence - lovely stuff.
And as for the music itself, you're in for a treat:
1. Magic Shoppe - City Alight (Yeah) 03:18 2. New Planet Trampoline - This Is the Morning 04:40 3. Shadowgraphs - This Strange Effect 02:36 4. Firefay - House on the Strand 04:38 5. Wyrdstone - Meditation On Lost Gardens 03:36 6. Faten Kanaan - Santo Sospir 03:40 7. Augenwasser - Happy Warm Playful 01:48 8. Violet Swells - The Strange, Strange Design 04:05 9. Scrambled Limbs - Settle 03:03 10. New Cardinals - Tomorrow Waiting 07:14 11. Pulselovers - Red Eden, White Nights 03:34 12. Lunar Grave - House of Domber 02:16 13. Mystic Brew - Something More Than Dream 05:41 14. Yuusa Muusa - Bloom 03:48 15. Prana Crafter - Rupture Of Planes 04:24
Download or stream here - please feel free to download for free by entering $0, or by entering a donation of your choosing if you'd like to support us and help us keep the sampler series going. Thanks!
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