27 Apr 2016

Fumaça Preta – Impuros Fanáticos

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

When Fumaça Preta’s self-titled debut was released toward the end of 2014, it instantly leapt to the top of my “Best Of” list for that year; I mean, instantly. It only took one listen for the band’s particular mix of Tropicalia, experimentalism, and general madness to sink its hooks into me and to make the band an instant favorite.

But, where "Fumaça Preta" came screaming out of the gate like a bat out of hell, "Impuros Fanáticos", by contrast, creeps up on you like a spectre in the night.

It opens with the sound of a guitar crashing to the ground in the distance, howling wind, and the sound of a flute, fluttering like a frightened little bird. Then, a creeping, atmospheric groove comes into focus, sounding like the lost soundtrack to an old film noir. It is from that groove that bandleader Alex Figueria’s panicked vocal emerges, pleading in Portuguese. Where, on the first album, there was hysteria, here, there is desperation.

While atmosphere is the rule of the day here, the groove drives everything forward, as it always has with this drummer-led band. “Baldonero” emerges from the muck with an angry-sounding surf guitar playing against a Bossabeat and a pulsing bass line. And “Decimo Andar” raises the ante in the energy department, finally getting the motor running at full speed.

But, it’s not until near the end of the record—with the one-two punch of “Ressace Da Gloria” and “La Trampa”—that the band achieves the same level of in-your-face intensity that it pretty much maintained throughout their entire debut. That said, it’s anything but late in arriving. By the time the throttle is opened, the groove and atmosphere has already lulled the listener into an alternate state of consciousness, grooving along on a haze of mid-tempo voodoo funk, making the explosion at the end all the more effective by what preceded. So, when it kicks, it KICKS. It’s a masterful display of the power of sequencing.

Fumaça Preta remains one of the most interesting and exciting bands making music today. Jumbling together acid, Tropicalia, funk, jazz, samba, and anything else that catches their fancy in a musical blender that’s set to “liquefy.”

Yes, "Impuros Fanáticos" is a more-subdued affair than the first album, but when you drop the needle on this one, it doesn’t let go of you until the final fade. You’ll find yourself catching your breath without ever realizing that you lost it. Yes, they are that good.

CD, vinyl and digital available here (UK/EU), or here (US).

Looking Stateside - 80 US R&B, Mod, Soul and Garage Nuggets

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

For those unfamiliar with RPM's "Looking..." series, this fourth entry is an excellent way to get acquainted. Focusing on Mod sounds of the early to mid sixties, the series mines some very deep cuts indeed, and is an invaluable set of tools for those seeking to prove that there was much more to the mod scene than the Who, the Small Faces, and white blokes covering Motown tunes, with previous volumes featuring (mostly) UK sourced freakbeat, Northern Soul and R&B gems, mixing acknowledged classics with more obscure cuts - many on CD for the first time, bafflingly so given their obvious quality.

"Looking Stateside" shifts the focus to the US, an interesting proposition given that Mod as a phenomenon was almost exclusively an English thing (at the time at least). So what we have here is 80 tracks worth of stonkingly rare, and more often than not, first-rate tunes that would have gone down a treat in early sixties Mod clubs like the Flamingo, despite the fact that most of the featured artists had probably never even heard the M word.

The early Mods certainly knew how to appropriate all of the right stuff. There's a hugely diverse mixture of top drawer material here. It's no wonder that it's been such a consistently enduring aspect of youth culture.

There are three crammed to the gills discs here, each focusing on a different aspect; disc one: R&B, soul and rock n roll, disc two: Northern Soul and disc three: garage, 60s proto punk and psychedelia.

Discs one and two are full of dance-floor friendly stompers with an alarmingly high hit-rate, but it's disc three that will presumably be of most interest to Active Listener readers. Genre fans will be familiar with some of this content, including well selected tracks by the Misunderstood, the Sonics and the Wailers, but even the most studious listener will be making new and exciting discoveries here. There are some garage standards for sure, the soulful, funky garage groove of Love Society's "Tobacco Road" being particularly good (and just wait for that long, sustained fuzz guitar to come in), but there are at least as many originals worth salivating over. The Knickerbockers (of "Lies" fame), prove that they were more than a Beatlesque garage combo with the appealingly soulful "As a Matter of Fact". The Brogues' brutal "Don't Shoot Me Down" makes an always welcome appearance. Then there's the International Bongo Band's "Congo" a bongo led jangle-beat fest that sounds like an early Animals number that's had the studio doors thrown open to a street party.

Obviously there's a lot happening here and much too much content to focus on more than a smattering of tracks before the readers eyes are likely to glaze over. Suffice to say that I could have randomly pulled any five or six tracks from here out of a hat and had the same enthusiastic response; it'd be entirely reasonable to expect a little filler amongst these eighty tracks, especially given how many are making their CD debut, but the compilers obviously have a well attuned set of ears. This is a thoroughly, and consistently enjoyable set of floor-fillers that made even my tired, under-slept feet shuffle involuntarily.

The whole package comes in an attractive clam shell box, with an extremely thorough 36 page book which will swallow much more of your time than you expect. Highly recommended.

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

25 Apr 2016

Klaus Morlock - Penumbra

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Following the unsettling electronic majesty of 2014’s début ‘The Bridmore Lodge Tapes’ and his beautifully melancholic sophomore album, ‘The Child Garden’, Klaus Morlock slips once more out of the shadows with this new release, ‘Penumbra’. Like previous work there is an intriguing back story to the recording; herein lies a musical interpretation of the tale of Molly Kingston, a 17 year old Londoner who vanished with warning only to be heard of again by way of a mysterious letter stating she had joined a ‘celestial’ group named Penumbra. Furthermore, it was written that she had ‘attained the highest spiritual bliss’ and ‘had acquired the long sought after ability’ to enter and harvest the dreams of those deemed ready and susceptible. Indeed, the letter informed, this is what had happened to Molly and accounted for her disappearance. And then others started to vanish. In each case a similar letter was the only explanation or their sudden vanishing and in this letter they claimed to have been met and ‘harvested’ in their dreams by both Molly and her sinister sounding dream twin Ladybird. This back story alone is enough to give any listener the shivers; that the music is equally haunting and affecting will come as no surprise to those who have fallen under Morlock’s spell with previous albums.

The album opens with 'Arrival', the eerie and looped sound of woodwind and piano offering a gentle but slightly off kilter refrain amongst the crackle and buzz of an old phonograph. Like a decaying dream or sepia photograph this is reminiscent of an old and vaguely uneasy memory, in much the same way that the more pastoral elements of classic 70's soundtracks such as 'Let's Scare Jessica To Death' or 'Suspiria' can be. A solar wind enters as a sombre and mournful cello takes centre stage, followed by a host of spectral voices and keys which float and linger lysergically, a ghostly lament. This composition is incredibly intricate and is clearly carefully put together to achieve the greatest emotional impact and the surest and subtlest of atmospheres. It is a testament to Morlock's muse that the piece remains delicate, restrained and all the more powerful for this; he hints at the horror lurking underneath rather than over doing or over emphasising the element of terror, thus masterfully controlling the suspense. Next, 'With Ladybird' soars with a hypnagogic, dreamlike quality, an analogue synth solo that evokes the finest works of Tangerine Dream and Cluster. The track then morphs into a haunted slice of harpsichord led darkness, each note gliding with crescendo through a spectre filled dreamscape until the sound of rain descends and solitary piano picks out a chillingly memorable melody. Mellotron strings build and layer around the piano in a choral and darkly angelic fanfare; a genuinely heartstopping moment. Fans of Belbury Poly, Keith Seatman and The Advisory Circle would be well advised to seek this out immediately.

'Lovely Molly' creeps into view with a murmer of voices, howling wind and some truly beautiful plucked harp and synth strings. Raising the hairs on the back of this listener's neck, this track ably balances the gorgeous vintage keyboard reverie with a deep sense of yearning and wraith like creeping unease. The mellotron strings that then appear are both utterly unearthly and majestic, raising things to a cosmiche and King Crimson-esque peak before some deeply acid folk flute takes us once again into a sepia, 70's hued world, the disconcerting reverberating conclusion of which stays with the listener long after the song has finished. Indeed there is something of an electronica based vision of 70's wyrd folk and folk horror soundtracks here; something urban perhaps but also with a hint of 'Lemora' or 'Valerie And Her Week of Wonders', an otherworldly gothic and surreal sense of terror. 'The Chamber Of Lost Dreams' the album's (or mini album's) closer begins with with a rasping doom laden synth note before a carnivalesque loop filled with backwards sounds begins its twisted carousel. Any revelry takes a decidedly (and pleasingly) disturbing turn as the backwards melodies seep through, creating a track that truly sounds a though someone is picking their way through your dreams and turning them back and forth in their fingers. Moans and sparkling synth lines take over, reverberating and echoing outwards as the electronic symphony ascends further and further into the ether. Suddenly, there is silence save for some unearthly bells and backwards sounds; then the most melancholy and beautiful descending melody appears, xylophone and picked guitar following its central motif. If this had been released accompanying a film of pastoral terror in the 70's this soundtrack would be rightly revered as an all time classic with copies of the original on vinyl going for vast sums. Treat it as such; this is a masterpiece and stands head and shoulders above most contemporary and 'classic' soundtracks to horror, wyrd and psychotronic cinema.

Here then is another masterpiece of spooked electronica, of sophisticated and carefully wrought drama, suspense and tension. The composer himself is a shadowy figure with little known about him save that he has been involved in several of the last few years most essential electronic and hauntological releases, be it The Unseen’s ‘The Goatman’ soundtrack, his previous two long players or his forthcoming appearance on surrealist soundscaper So There’s imminent new album. What is known is that his name indicates that listeners are due to be rewarded with a special and spectral slice of vintage electronics and a soundtrack that will live in, indeed harvest, your dreams for many nights to come.

Available now as a ‘name your price’ download at Klaus Morlock’s Bandcamp site, do not miss out.

21 Apr 2016

Surly Gates - Lay Low

Reviewed by Dedric Moore (KC Psych Fest)

Surly Gates deliver "Lay Low" as a tribute to guitar rock of the early 70's without adding in the pomp that leveled classic rock by 1975. Touches of southern rock, California rock, and a heady dose of jamming makes for a great listen as songs stretch epically. The songs feel good and Surly Gates confidently makes them sound like their own.

It's been interesting to hear the psych community move past their 60's obsession with the Summer of Love vibes and head towards the early 70's. "Lay Low" is a prime example of how to do it right. Excellent vocals, locked-in bass and drums, and production values which make the band sound like you are hearing them live coming out of the speakers.

"Pisces" kicks off with a blistering jam that teases with warm vocal harmonies and then the beats build up to a nice groove and wham, the song kicks into overdrive with the band blowing out the speakers and a wild guitar solo screeching on top.

"People" feels like a lost "Déjà Vu" song by CSNY, with meditative words and a melody which coasts along at a mellow pace as the organ bounces you along. Another guitar solo? It’s more than welcome.

"Lay Low" is one of the standout tracks with its catchy lead-in riff and syncopated bass and drums on the verse. The chorus opens up and works its way back to the groove with a great use of subtle dynamics. There is a healthy dash of Texas psych in the vocals and background guitars as a bonus.

"Proud Indian" is another song that starts out with quiet vocal harmonies before kicking into the beat. This one has some nice psych guitar that veers into space on the breaks, and the organ line is catchy as can be. "Growl" has a carnival vibe with its waltzing rhythm and is somewhat reminiscent of "White Album" era Beatles. The song builds nicely and has another great guitar solo that is on point.

"Under Your Tongue" adds in some acoustic guitars that meld nicely with the organ riff, and an ever present bass groove that keeps building in its complexity until it crescendos with the drums at the climax of the guitar solo. "Shivaratri" drops in with its fun house organ groove and has a bit of a Doors feel that then goes 70s classic rock with dual guitars singing out.

And "Wicked Lover" has that vintage bass and guitar synced riff that gets the body moving and possibly some air guitar action. It has a Black Angels feel and that isn’t a bad thing. "Wicked Lover" is catchy and has an inspired slow time breakdown.

"Catatonia" winds it down with gentle guitars, trumpet and electric piano. It even has a Byrds vibe at just the right moment.

Their songs take the time to stretch out and let the guitars flex their tone and add some great solos. Acoustic guitars, classic organ, occasional dual guitar solos, vocal harmonies, and solid songwriting make this a worthwhile listen.

Full stream and download here:

18 Apr 2016

The Active Listener Sampler 41

Hi Folks. We're super busy in Active Listener land at the moment, but we're trying our best to keep up our monthly sampler releases for you all.

Here's our latest offering, with sleeve art by Mark McGee. There are some real beauties on this one, featuring artists we've recently reviewed, lots of new artists that you won't have encountered in our pages yet, and a few premieres of tracks from artists we all know and love.

Check out the link below to stream or download - free downloads welcome, and any donations very gratefully received to cover our mounting costs. Enjoy!

The Ventures Beach Party

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

The Ventures get a bit of a rough deal when it comes to appraising the surf bands of the early sixties. It's certainly true that they stuck around for much longer than they should have, with diminishing returns setting in by the very late sixties / early seventies, but the run of albums they released up until around 1968 are more often than not very entertaining affairs, with (depending who you ask) at least five to ten of them making for some fairly essential listening - often much better listening than the numerous 'hits' collections on the market which bypass a lot of their more interesting album material ("The Creeper" anyone?!).

Cherry Red's El Records label has just reissued one of their harder to find original LPs, 1962's "Beach Party" (also known as "Mashed Potatoes and Gravy"), and while it's not quite up to the very high standard of 1963's sci-fi surf opus "The Ventures in Space", or 1966's superhero themed "The Ventures Play The Batman Theme", it's one of the band's most enjoyable outings in a more purely surf-oriented vein.

It's a nicely varied affair too. "Lucille" is given a bendy twist, and there's a great version of "Poison Ivy" which is right up there with Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs' phenomenal version - two excellent examples of the band's knack for recasting popular vocal tunes in a purely instrumental setting without them feeling like backing tracks. There's also plenty of fun mashed potato referencing rock n roll too, not to mention a definitive take on the Lively Ones' "Surf Rider" (actually written by the Ventures' Nokie Edwards"), here recast as "Spudnik". Best of all though are the moody minor key numbers; "Hernando's Hideaway" and the slinky spy guitars of "Hot Summer (Asian Mashed)". If there was ever a Get Smart episode set in Chinatown, this would have provided the perfect soundtrack. Not bad work for a band that released five albums in 1962 alone!

Aside from the original twelve track album, this new edition features 22 bonus tracks as a sort of 'best of' sampler from the band's first nine albums, as well as covers of the band's biggest hit "Walk Don't Run" by Johnny Smith and Chet Atkins. "Beach Party" on its own is a thoroughly worthwhile purchase, these added bonus tracks make this the perfect sampler of the band's early career, providing lots of the hits, as well as a hint of the unexpected pleasures to be found when investigating their albums in greater depth. Recommended!

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

16 Apr 2016

Sons of the Void "ST"

Reviewed by Joseph Murphy

Whether David Max is a familiar name or not, many of his past projects certainly are or should be: Psychic TV, Tadpoles, and – under his own name – the excellent “Simple Psychedelic Pleasures” (2009, from the highly-regarded Mind Expansion Records). This year marks a new entry, pressed this time by the increasingly venerable Sunrise Ocean Bender.

After their partnership during the “Simple Psychedelic Pleasures” tour, Max and Nick Nobody (who toured with Max in support) reconvened in Basel, Switzerland, where they began Logical Magic Recordings and wrote/recorded and re-recorded over the course of three years what would become the self-titled debut of Sons of the Void. What resulted is an epic, aural experience that blends – almost deliriously so – dream soundscapes, field recordings, psychedelic obscurities and off-kilter pop.

First track, “Leichenblume” begins with – at least to this ear – the opening of a door; beyond is a far off chant then tentative guitar work and odd, woodwind accents. It all accumulates and gives way to a lush, patchwork of bright, otherworldly sounds, all with Max’s steady voice guiding us deeper inside.

Follow-up, “Don’t Forget to Pray” got a wonderful video treatment a while back, and it’s a perfect beacon for the album, continuing along the path previously set for densely-layered, mature and immediately-classic experimental pop.

Sons of the Void is a dramatic step away from Max’s previous projects (see Tadpoles and Psychic TV), both of which wrangled some harsh noise, albeit in often beautiful ways. For Sons of the Void, there will be no credit given for feedback guitars; “A Kick Like That” gets closest with some excellent fuzz, and “Hope I Don’t Miss” makes room for a wall of sound passage. Instead, Max and Nobody weave layers of melody into pleasant, sunshine-dripping pop songs as maximalists of musical subtlety. This is a masterwork by musicians for, in many ways, musicians – or, at least, music lovers unafraid of headphone worthy acts. As a whole, It’s well worth the solitary experience and close listen.

“Sons of the Void” is pressed on a limited-run, cyan vinyl and includes a download. Orders can be made through Sunrise Ocean Bender’s store or Bandcamp page below, where you can also preview a few tracks.

14 Apr 2016

Sharron Kraus - Hen Llan Recordings

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

Over the last fourteen years Sharron Kraus has been quietly amassing one of the most important and potentially timeless and lasting back catalogues of modern psych folk. Her previous long player, 2015's 'Friends And Enemies; Lovers and Strangers' (reviewed here at The Active Listener) was possibly a career highlight amongst a prolific and treasure filled discography. This new instrumental EP, recorded in Hen Llan in Wales, picks up where 'Friends And Enemies…' left off with a similar sense of baroque woodland pageantry, filled with a veritable forest's worth of recorder, harp and acoustic guitar.

Opener 'Hen Llano' is a delicate and eerie wonder, cascading harp suggesting an ominous wander through the shadow filled trees as trepidatious and spectral recorder enters to further add a sense of a haunted fairy tale. This piece is incredibly intricate and beautifully put together, as is the EP as a whole, and it is amazingly transportive; close your eyes and you are in another world completely, one where you might not want to stray from the path...'Holy Isle' is a more medieval sounding and dynamic piece, at times the harmonised woodwind is strident and bold before it then gently lulls as if the music itself has become bewitched. 'Sad Day At Pen Parc's melancholic air is utterly spellbinding, every harp note is discernible and the interplay between the instrumentation is seamless and hugely affecting. There is always a risk that instrumental music containing elements of harp and woodwind might stray into new age 'music of the panpipes' territory but 'Hen Llan Recordings' never does, it keeps a solid, earthy and sadly wistful air that is graceful, meaningful and emotive. Finally 'The Green Abbey' is a stately procession, the acoustic guitar keeping time as the harp descends over the beat like a waterfall. And then it is over; brief this EP might be but it is also perfect. It perhaps can be seen as a sister release or companion to 'Friends And Enemies..' and it certainly creates a genuine sense of excitement for Kraus's next release.

Released and housed in a beautiful handmade sleeve by the fine Reverb Worship label, this EP is already onto its second edition as the first sold out almost immediately. It can also be purchased as a download from Sharron's own Bandcamp page. Hasten ye there!

13 Apr 2016

The Tomcats - Running At Shadows: The Spanish Recordings 1965-1966

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

I'm sure that the majority of you will be intimately familiar with July, an Ealing based psychedelic band who released a classic self titled album on the Major Minor label in 1968 with a heavy Beatles / Floyd / Kaleidoscope (UK) feel to it - now a major collectible and an extremely well regarded album in its own right. Less will realise that many of July's members had been kicking around in bands since the late fifties. Formed from the nucleus of two bands - the Tomcats and the Second Thoughts (who featured a pre-Nirvana Patrick Campbell-Lyons on vocals), the final line-up of the Tomcats immediately preceded July, with an almost identical line-up of Tom Newman, Chris Jackson, Alan James, Tony Duhig and Jon Field.

After some local UK success the Tomcats decided to try their luck in Spain, where they were treated as a sort of surrogate Rolling Stones - the Stones themselves being banned in Franco era Spain along with a number of other bands deemed to be 'dangerous' by the authorities. The Tomcats took advantage of this and released four successful EPs over 1965 and 1966 which, along with a few rarities and tracks recorded by the Second Thoughts, make up this fine new collection.

Those hoping for more of July's psych pop won't find it here - the band weren't exposed to any psychedelic influences until they returned to Ealing in 1967-1968 - but those with a penchant for moody R&B and beat will find this a rewarding listen.

It's heavy on cover versions, as one would expect from a band who were essentially providing big hits recorded elsewhere in the world  the chance to get past Spain's borders. The Rolling Stones covers are certainly interesting. While they're no substitute for the originals, they don't try to purely replicate them either, so there are a few surprises to be had with a sitarless "Paint it Black" being more than the interesting novelty that it should be. Standards of the time like "Cocaine" and the Yardbirds' "For Your Love" also get surprisingly spirited and gritty treatments, with the Tomcats' version of "Roadrunner" being particularly definitive. There's also an enjoyably rough and ready take on "Monday Monday" infused with plenty of garage spirit and appeallingly ragged harmonies.

Originals are in short supply but the moody title track proves that the songwriting prowess showcased on "July"didn't just manifest overnight, while the anthemic "It Ain't Right" features startling acid guitar work which would sound right at home on a West Coast US export of a similar period. Even better are the traditional Spanish folk songs which the band give the beat treatment. I'm not certain how well known these songs are outside of Spain (any Spanish readers care to let us know?) but they're all new to me and pretty exciting in their own right, particularly the wild freakbeat of "A Tu Vera" and the percussive, fuzzy "Pena, Penita, Pena"- probably the two most potent tracks here.

Archival collections like this often feel like unnecessary footnotes, especially when greater things are to follow from its contributors. That, happily, is not the case here. While the exhaustively complete nature of "Running At Shadows" ensures the odd dip in quality, this has more than its fair share of gem, especially for a collection that doesn't cherry-pick its contents.

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

10 Apr 2016

Eerie Wanda – Hum

Reviewed by Shaun Rogan

Imagine if you will, the emergence of a new female talent that casts spells on you from the corner of your room, from your holy speakers. Imagine if she wrote a set of songs that refracted some prime influences such as Francoise Hardy, The Free Design, Wendy & Bonnie, Aztec Camera, Stereolab, Real Estate and Lush, as well as encapsulating her own psych-pop sensibility and melded them into something lovely and evocative. Imagine the feeling of wellbeing you would encounter being subjected to the aural equivalent of sitting on a balcony in Antibes and watching the sun slowly set whilst drinking ice cold margueritas.

You can imagine that? Well, brothers and sisters I am pleased to say you need imagine no longer as Eerie Wanda (aka Marina Tadic) is here to guide you safely and dreamily into the nocturnal hours, with this in mind, and all of the sonic resources required to make it a fun ride.

The correctly titled ‘Hum’ is an assured debut from Eerie Wanda, built on solidly constructed and fully realised songs and aided and abetted by the hand picked (Jacco Gardner affiliated) expert backing band at the disposal of the enigmatic Ms Tadic. The arrangements are breathy and often sparse, allowing a lovely separation of the instruments deployed, and as with much ‘modern psychedelic pop,’ the mood is woozy, somewhat blurred, occasionally shadowy but generally good natured. The more you allow yourself to be seduced by the songs held within, the more you sink under and into the world being constructed for you. As Syd once said, "one thinks of it all as a dream."

Opener, “Happy Hard Times” deceives somewhat with its minor key, rather ominous dirge-like bridge, sitting oddly against the rather fey and lovely verse, and is perhaps the closest Eerie Wanda come to giving me hypnophobia. The song does however set a template from which the remaining 12 songs can somnambulate into your consciousness in the most disarming way. Eerie Wanda are experts at candy coated insinuation, like your favourite cat who you know doesn’t love you quite ever as much as you want. And that is a cool trick to pull on any listener, instantly familiar, instantly keeping you at a distance – you can listen but you can’t touch.

This approach is exemplified by one of my personal favourites on the record, “New Harmony” a lovely affair with beautifully intoned vibrato guitar riffs and vocal incantations which combine in overall sonic effect to gently wrap itself around you and warm your heart but makes clear you will always be an observer, a listener and you should never interrupt. I would imagine people stand stock still at Eerie Wanda shows as they are covered by these songs, or maybe sway gently like flowers at the mercy of the breeze. Totally Grooved.

“Volcano Lagoon” sounds like a laid back version of ‘Brain Damage’ by Pink Floyd if it had been recorded in 1968 on the Left Bank, it's another huge winner, skating around the periphery of your senses, delicately balanced and always teetering on the point of being in focus but never fully getting there. A delight.

Much of ‘Hum’ gives an impression of assuredness, of a creator that could be slightly twisted but is happy, and if seemingly detached, then contented in being so. It’s a lovely zone to inhabit for some idle relaxation and a refreshing change from being instructed or implored as many songwriters do when bringing their work to your door. It’s nice sometimes to escape and ‘Hum’ does that. You hum the tunes you don’t want to learn the words – they are Eerie Wanda’s words not mine and she likes that just fine. As do I. I am her loyal servant and will do her bidding.

The title track is a slow pony trek across the open fields of your brain, by turn being ever so self-effacing and then flirtatious with the listener. Again it's all signatured with that lovely crystalline lead guitar which performs a beautifully understated break at its mid-point before sliding back into the vocals which are the centre of gravity at all times on this excellent debut. If Marina’s vocals are centre stage, the sympathetic guitar accompaniment is very much her partner in crime.

“To Dream Again” has an almost 1980’s New Wave feel to it with its slightly jerky rhythm, jarring your ears whilst the vocal lines cascade gently down around you. Again its impeccably restrained, deliberately, calculatedly restrained to create a precise mood in the listener. It’s a very refreshing approach that oozes charm. It makes me want to drink red wine and smoke Gauloises. Ace.

And so the courtship of the listener continues over the remainder of the record, voice and guitar often counterpointing each other; “The Reason” in a playful call and response, into the French disko of “Vinny” to the dreamy slightly unsettling hang-overture of ‘The Boy’ and concluding with the yearning adieu of “There Are Many Things” which leaves matters suitably unresolved and bittersweet as Eerie Wanda gently climb out of your bedroom window into the pitch black of night. You may be left pondering what has just gone before but it has most definitely been a lovely, lazy, carefree half-hour in the company of Eerie Wanda.

Maybe Eerie Wanda will drop by again? She knows I’d love to see her.

Available in a myriad of formats here:

9 Apr 2016

Constantine – Day of Light

Reviewed by Timothy Ferguson

I know many independent musicians who feel it necessary to comply with some bizarre schedule and release records every year. I would argue that by doing so, one can place limitations on one’s own creativity and the quality of recorded material.

With the release of "Day of Light", Constantine Hastalis has offered up an impressive counter argument to this industry-approved schedule. Painstakingly recorded, mixed and mastered over a four-year period, "Day of Light" is a fine example of what an artist can achieve when they take their time. No detail is insignificant, no syllable is beyond scrutiny; because in the end, if the vision is true, the result will justify the means.

"Day of Light" is a triumph of the modern recording process and proof positive that psychedelia can be elevated to high (no pun intended) art. From song craft to performance, through arrangement and production, "Day of Light" shines with crystalline perfection. Acid folk seems too shabby a category to assign to this record, because this is something altogether different. Instrumentation includes flute, tabla, melotron, bouzouki, vibraphone, autoharp, piccolo, harpsichord and many others. With such a rich sonic palette to work from, Constantine has crafted nothing short of a psychedelic masterpiece that stands on par and in league with Love’s "Forever Changes, The Zombies’ "Odyssey and Oracle" and Pretty Things’ "SF Sorrow".

The opening track, "(Into the Land) That Time Forgot", is a portal, similar to Alice’s rabbit hole, to a dimension where 60’s innocence still lives, where the listener can return to a place of hope that no longer exists in the waking world (but could). "The Trip (pts I & II)" follows with its subtle jazzy swing and clear-eyed warning that the listener is not in Kansas anymore. This song perfectly captures the psychedelic experience as well as the experience of listening to "Day of Light". You have entered a place of magic and beauty and no matter the outcome, you may be changed forever. "Egyptian Days" veers eastward, through the valley of good and evil, as bouzouki and sitar shine through the smoke of incense and jasmine. With "Song of the Seven Willows" and "On Through the Ages", we time shift to medieval England, where the lovely Jennifer Williams casts her siren voice through the mists of Avalon. "Voyage of the Crystal Bird" and "Forest Path" shimmer with flute and swirling vocals, further strengthening the power of this sonic journey. When we finally reach the penultimate song "Rania", the haze clears and we are left standing at the core of the dream, ready to be swept away to our destiny. This song is a true tour de force, full of power, beauty and magic, and you will want it to go on forever.

"Day of Light" closes this magnificent record with a question mark, and not the exclamation point some might have hoped for. ‘The sun goes down, the day has vanished” sings Constantine as our journey comes to an end, but he offers the following benediction:

The day of light, the day the trees grew from the earth
The day of light, the day of death and the day of birth
The day of light, the day of love and the day of hate
The day of light, of destruction and create
The day of light, the day of beauty and the day of sin
The day of light, of the power of the light within.

The dream is over, but the power of that dream is within us now. What will we do with it? Personally, I will spread the word about this essential record and hope that it inspires my fellow musicians to always reach much higher. We only have one life after all, one single day of light. Make it count.

The first vinyl pressing of "Day of Light" has sold out, but a second pressing from Greece will be available summer of 2016, and pre-orders are being taken now on the artist's BandCamp page. Eye Vybe Records has released Day of Light on cassette and a digital version is for sale via the URL below:

7 Apr 2016

Zoltan - Phantasm / Tanz der Vampire

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Everytime prolific London horror-synth trio Zoltan release something new I think to myself "I've spent much too much time covering these guys in these pages, I should really be breaking someone new that I haven't shared with you before - it's someone else's turn". But then, inevitably, I have a quick listen and my willpower dissolves.

Here then, is another Zoltan release (previously covered titles can be found here, here, here and here). I've been a fan from the very first time I heard them, but they still manage to progress with every single release - no mean feat for a band that, when you get down to it, have a formula that they adhere pretty strictly too. It's a pretty great formula though - a trio of synthesizers with a robust rhythm section either covering classic horror scores, or creating new music inspired by them - all in a style that deliberately evokes the likes of John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi, and particularly the progressive musicianship of Goblin.

Their latest is a limited edition 10" vinyl release on the always on point Cineploit label, with one side each dedicated to music from the films "Phantasm" and "Tanz der Vampire". Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave's "Phantasm" score is legendary in its own right, and the recent passing of the Tall Man Angus Scrimm gives this added poignancy. Given how difficult it is to track down a non-digital copy of the original score, this is a very welcome release, full of sinister synth arpeggios and doom-laden mellotron heaviness, with great use of their prog inclined rhythm section - it's a relentless trio of tracks.

The music on side two - from Roman Polanski's "Tanz der Vampire (Dance of the Vampires)" - is a bit of a change of pace after the oppressive onslaught on the previous side. The original music by Krysztof Komeda is much more varied, and this gives the trio the opportunity to stretch out and demonstrate their range a little more. There's an excellent interpretation of the title piece which sounds like a lost Frizzi theme from Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond", which fits in perfectly with the "Phantasm" material, but then a lighter touch is shown with "Krolock", a delicate waltz that sounds like a Soulless Party / Broadcast collaboration. Finally "Vampires to Crypt" is all mounting tension and atmosphere, which, rather than ending with an obvious bang, leaves the listener perched on the edge of their seat, breath held, waiting for a resolution that's not forthcoming.

Recommended - as are their other releases.

Only 350 vinyl copies - get one here, or stream through the link below.

5 Apr 2016

The Driftwood Manor - Fraction of a Wolf

Reviewed and interviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Driftwood Manor, Eddie Keenan's consistently creative and evolving psych folk project, have to date released three superb and highly recommended albums and a clutch of equally essential EPs. This listener in particular spent many a dark and stormy night playing 2011's 'The Same Figure (Leaving)' album and a summer's day basking in the glory of their 2013 opus 'Of the Storm'. Now, just as the spring emerges a new Driftwood Manor single 'Fraction of a Wolf' is released as a precursor to their new long player 'For the Moon', due in June. The Active Listener were naturally keen to investigate further and to speak to Keenan about these new recordings and the themes and musical directions contained therein.

To begin with, the single itself. 'Fraction of a Wolf' begins with a tentative and haunting acoustic refrain as Keenan's naked voice emerges with a haunting sense of foreboding, recounting of ‘a fraction of a wolf carved, encased in wood, a god inside a splinter’. Beautiful, melancholy violin and strident drums add further layers of emotive resonance to an increasingly sophisticated and deeply impressive piece of psych folk. The Driftwood Manor have the rare skill of making a song like this sound both intimate and positively widescreen, wild and windswept. This may be down to Kennan's confessional yet emotive vocals which effortlessly carry the main melody of the song to begin with before a fiddle line joins to provide a seamless harmony. Not many have this capability; Bonnie Prince Billy perhaps, maybe Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan. Fans of those artists, plus those of The Walkabouts, Faun Fables, The Left Outsides and The Owl Service may want to take note and seek this release out. As the track progresses subtle banjo notes and electric guitar converge, deepening the musical palette as the drums propel the song forward to a sudden, heart stopping finale. Sonically expansive and rich in detail, 'Fraction of a Wolf' returns to the full, sweeping sound that The Driftwood Manor displayed on 'The Same Figure (Leaving)' but with an additional sense of power and urgency.

This single comes highly recommended, do not let it slip by; prepare also for 'For the Moon', it rises very, very soon.

And now for a chat with Eddie.

'Fraction of a Wolf' is a glimpse into your new album 'For the Moon' due in the summer of 2016. Can you tell us a little about the album and what to expect?

The new album takes a lot of different directions in terms of musical styles and instrumentation, but hopefully there's a cohesiveness there. You try and create common threads, as well as a story, and there's a recurrence of certain instruments, just used in a different context. It's still a folk album, in a wider sense, but there's a lot of other things going on. I always think of an album or EP as like trying to put together an exhibition, well, I imagine anyway! Sometimes the paintings seem completely different but you try to make them work together within the room. Also, the band has developed in terms of our live sound, and I think that comes through on the album. There's more percussion etc. throughout than on previous recordings.

Musically the single is rich and expansive featuring a whole array of instrumentation; previous album 'Of the Storm' felt like a more stripped back approach though was equally as effective, how would you describe the approach you have taken for 'Of the Moon'? What decides the nature and musical backing of the songs; is this suggested by the lyrics and do they follow after?

With 'Of the Storm' the idea from the start was to have a stripped back, raw sounding album. My father passed away during the writing and recording of the album so that influenced a number of the songs too. I wanted to create something fairly straight-forward. It actually ended up quite a bit more textured than I had initially planned.  I write new songs constantly so they sometimes coalesce into albums themselves, or seem to, and that was the case with that album. The whole thing was recorded periodically over four months so it was quite a quick process. With 'For the Moon' I wanted to do something completely different. I think every album you create should sound different to the last. If not then you're doing something wrong or are in music for the wrong reasons. As well as that, it keeps things interesting for yourself and the musicians you work with too.

There seems to be a distinct theme of nature in both the single and in the title of the forthcoming album (and indeed in previous Driftwood Manor songs); is this something which influences your writing? Sometimes there is also a suggestion of darkness and the supernatural (such as in the brilliantly unsettling video for 'That Lasting Final Hurt'), is this something that influences your music and lyrics and where do you take your inspiration from in general?

Well I grew up in the countryside on a farm so that was obviously a huge influence. I enjoyed spending a lot of time on my own as a kid so I had quite a vivid imagination I suppose and would often spend days wandering through nearby woods and exploring abandoned houses. That's probably where my fascination with the supernatural came from too. It's always been something that's interested me and still does, although I believe that if there is genuine paranormal phenomena out there then it's essentially science that hasn't been explained yet. Quantum physics is stranger than any ghost story. I'm a bit obsessed with it, I don't really understand it but no-one does.

Some people have a very benevolent view of nature, and so they should in some ways, it gives us life. But it can also be merciless and that interests me too. Cycles of nature and how they relate to our everyday lives in subtle and less subtle ways are interesting. Fraction of a Wolf relates to that and uses a wood carving that my friend (the artist Aoife Doolan) made for me as a start-off point for exploring that and various other themes. Recently I haven't noticed as many elements of nature in my songs, so maybe I'm moving away from that, although it's always something I'll always come back to in some way.

What else can we expect from The Driftwood Manor in 2016? Do you have plans for live dates?

Yes, we'll be launching the single Fraction of a Wolf in Sweeney's, Dublin on March 4th and are lining up quite a few other dates including Roisin Dubh in Galway on April 4th. The album will be released in June so we'll be performing at festivals etc. during the summer in Ireland and hope to take in some dates in England during the year.

4 Apr 2016

Cavern of Anti-Matter / Toi Toi Toi - Other Voices #6 & #7

Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan

Ghost Box continues to plough a singular farrow. Occasionally punctuating long periods of silence with clusters of releases such as this latest clutch of 45s, and followed by the (now available) Hintermass LP (more of that later I'm sure).

The Other Voices Series has successfully taken the approach of its predecessor (The Study Series, pop pickers) and effectively changed nothing except the reference title and art work. These limited 45 releases (which ape in design the Columbia UK labels of the mid-1960's) are of consistently high quality and are building an impressive canon of work that will be appreciated for many years to come. OK, that's the intro, you want to know about these new 45s right? Right.

Cavern of Anti-Matter (Other Voices #6) are a volcanic bunch, led by the prolific Stereolab mainman, Tim Gane. They have been around for a little while, viewed by some as a side project but in truth the quality of the music produced is so significant that it is rather disrespectful to think of it as anything other than a band in its own right.

Their latest eruption of activity is two-fold. The first is this wonderful 45 (followed by this progtastic triple album) and presented here are two beautifully meandering tracks that skate lightly across a range of krauty genres from Michael Rother-esque guitar/synth washes to more sinister electro-territory in seamless shapeshifting. A side 'Pulsing Red River Phase' is a stately travelogue of sounds that hinges beautifully on two counterpoints of alternating circular guitar riff and prime era Krafwerk synth manipulation that eventually merge into a widescreen whole. Its a real treat, offering a fairground ride of hallucinatory otherness, true head music of the highest calibre and highly addictive.

Flip the 45 and we are in more familiar territory for those who know Gane's other work as Stereolab leader with the motorik beat driven guitar chimes of 'Phototones' replete with subtle synth underpinning and a hint of 1980's New Order style bass plucking. It's bright and breezy and has a lightness of touch that offsets the 'A' side very nicely indeed. Good stuff.

Toi Toi Toi (Other Voices #7) is an altogether more mysterious collective in as much as I have no idea who they are, where they come from or indeed what they want. However, their collection of electronic squiggles and distracted atonal vocalising on 'A' side "Odin's Jungle" reminds me somewhat of the work of The Residents, Devo or perhaps Colin Newman from Wire's endlessly intriguing "A to Z" LP of many lifetimes ago. It settles into a pleasing junkyard rhythm with some very nice synth work before disappearing off round the corner presumably in search of other people to bemuse. Flip it over and again you have a similar, more rural tune "Golden Green" replete with birdsong and what may well be some German language announcements before settling into a nice pattern of rippling synth and echoed flute stabs that wouldn't be a million miles away from Ghost Box stalwarts The Belbury Poly or The Advisory Circle in its conception or execution. In fact if you told me it was either operating under a nom de plume I wouldn't be remotely surprised. It is definitely the stronger of the two offerings from Toi Toi Toi and I wanted to play it again straight after its final announcement and bleeps dissolved into the ether. Very nice indeed.

And there you have it, two worthy additions to the Ghost Box canon. If you dig the Ghost Box aesthetic as I do you will find plenty to keep you occupied here. Happy trails.

Available on 45/DL from your usual hauntological stockists, or straight from the source.

New Release: The Coral - Distance Inbetween

"Distance Between" is a triumphant return after a six year hiatus which has seen Liverpudlian neo-psychedelic scousers the Coral investigate all sorts of different musical avenues via various solo projects.

"Distance Inbetween" is The Coral’s first album of new original material since 2010’s "Butterfly House", following the 2014 release of their surprisingly great lost 2005 album, "The Curse of Love".

"Distance Between" is a worthy successor to "The Curse of Love"s more explorative approach, showing a band that have grown a lot in the six years since they were last in the studio together. The album was influenced by the books of Richard Yates, the graphic novels of Alan Moore, classic toys from the 1980s, Krautrock and Muddy Waters' "Electric Mud" album. The band have evolved considerably from the jangly, pastoral pop merchants of their earlier recordings with "Distance Between" exploing the trippy, Floydian psychedelia that drummer Ian Skelly evoked so successfully on his solo album "Cut From a Star", ably supported by bustling Krautrock influenced rhythms - particularly on opening track "Connector". "Before we started making the album we had discussed that we wanted it to be more minimal and rhythmical,” explains James Skelly. “We thought ‘if you've got a rhythm section that’s been playing together for almost twenty years, why not make that the centre of the songs?’"

Paul Molloy (ex-the Zutons, and now the other half of Serpent Power with Ian Skelly), must also take some credit for how great "Distance Inbetween" sounds, making his debut here as a member of the Coral, adding layers of his distinctive, spidery guitar work.

"Distance Between" is available on vinyl, CD and digital formats. Get it here (UK/EU), or here if you're nearer the US.

3 Apr 2016

The Owl Service - His Pride. No Spear. No Friend.

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

The Owl Service almost single handedly resurrected the deep vein of the acidic and wyrd within the tradition of UK folk rock with their superb and highly influential début album, 'A Garland of Song'. Here were a band that were once again taking the richly dark ballads of these lands and creating a musical framework that matched the magical, murderous and mud splattered content of the words and stories. A series of essential EPs followed, culminating in the richly detailed and majestic 'A View From The Hill' before the Owls took a sabbatical, emerging in various alternate musical forms (such as Greanvine) and running the splendid Stone Tape label. And then, as though called back when Albion most needed them, they returned with this, their third long player 'His Pride. No Spear. No Friend' (the title a quote from Alan Garner's classic novel 'The Owl Service'). An arguably more stripped back and more traditional recording though potentially all the more affecting and powerful for this, this new album cements The Owl Service as the UK's foremost exponents of folk rock, although, as we shall see, they are this and yet so much more.

A clash of drums and cymbals begins the album with clear intent, introducing a truly beautiful and heartbreaking interpretation of 'The Widow's Lament' (a ballad best perhaps best known for its use across the opening credits of cult favourite 'The Wicker Man'.) A mindblowingly perfect vocal from Jo Lepine is exquisitely framed by dramatic drum beaks and fluid, crystalline guitar that allows the track to reveal its easy glide and splendour. Another Child Ballad, 'The False Knight' also benefits from stalwart drumming and gorgeous vocal harmonies from Diana Collier, its verses cascading and reeling around the chiming guitar notes that add an air of timelessness and grace to this rendition. Next, a shimmering and chilling cover of Midwinter's 'The Skater' (from their legendary 'Waters Of Sweet Sorrow' album) invokes an icy grandeur as the hint of strings and organ build the tension alongside robust bass, percussion and echoed guitar. You can almost feel the winter air upon your skin, such an atmosphere is ably conjured here. A version of folk standard 'Geordie' (previously recorded by acts such Trees), consisting almost solely of an aquatic sounding Hammond backing and Laura Hulse Davis's pure and evocative vocals lifts the hairs on the back of this listener's neck before an explosive and effective version of Cademon's 'Sea Song' (from the Edinburgh based acid folk band's self titled 70s debut which has been described s 'the holy grail' of acid folk) start-stops with delicious drama, molten lead guitar lines, pounding drums and Jo Lepine's wistful vocals creating a hugely thrilling piece of psych folk. A masterful version of Shirley And Dolly Collins' 'Salisbury Plain' is a melancholy gem, a highwayman's lament sparsely yet carefully framed with just the right amount of percussion and drifting, haunting organ.

This spare use of sound is a feature of the album; the songs feel stripped back compared to earlier Owl excursions which commonly displayed rich layers of instrumentation that could (and often did) include sitar, keyboards and a variety of stringed things. Yet this more minimal approach doesn't lessen the power of these interpretations and songs; rather it allows the words and the emotions to breathe and come alive within the windswept beauty of the backdrop provided.

'Living By The Water' is a delicate and heartfelt rendition of the Anne Briggs number, a steady, pulsating guitar and rhythm providing a rich heartbeat to a yearning and affecting vocal performance from Michelle Bappoo. Long time Owl Service collaborator and Mellow Candle vocalist Alison O'Donnell takes centre stage on an epic and wide-screen 'Hugh Of Lincoln', perhaps the most overtly psych song on the album as a reverberated organ drone weaves throughout, gradually layered by skeletal guitar and O’Donnell’s flanged and echoed vocals. The growing tension is expertly handled, another benefit of the 'less is more' approach is that a sudden flurry of tambourine lets the song take a dramatic propulsion forward or a sudden unexpected twist in mood. The album closes with a triumphant yet dread filled 'Willie's Lady', an especially dark Child Ballad concerned with both deception and witchcraft. A spectral and emotive beauty, this song easily stands as one of The Owl Service's best yet.

There is an earthiness to 'His Pride. No Spear. No Friend.' that allows this album to sound as though it could have been recorded at any point in the last forty years. And yet, as with previous recordings, The Owl Service are not just your average folk rock band. The use of drums reflects more of a post rock/ experimental timbre and the guitar tone too evokes the panoramic soundscapes of both Godspeed You Black Emperor and Wolves In The Throne Room, not bands you would normally associate alongside songs previously performed by Shirley Collins or with music in the vein of Fairport Convention or The Albion Band. Yet this is what The Owl Service do that is so special, they add their own slant to the genre and are not afraid to take this musically wherever it needs to go in order to best service the song. Their own influences are equally as allowed to become a part of their musical tapestry and in this sense they are amongst the most forward looking of current psych folk acts; they are truly creating a new folk music as opposed to retreading old standards. You should really be alongside them on this journey; 'His Pride. No Spear. No Friend'. is another triumph, an equal to the essential first two Owl Service albums and yet another new step in their unique and fascinating trajectory. A someone once mentioned in the town of Twin Peaks, The Owls are not what they seem indeed.

Available now as a CD with gatefold sleeve (an amzing bargain at £1!), a limited edition double LP on 180g black vinyl in high gloss sleeve or a download at the band's Bandcamp page.